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A Session of Dungeon World

So our group started with some collaborative setting creation, and we decided on a maritime campaign (I pushed for it as I wanted something different than the usual tropes, and fortunately everyone was open to it). We each added an island and some currents to the map, then made characters; we wound up with a Druid (played by me), a barbarian, a fighter, and a wizard, and established our character bonds. 

We decided we were “good” pirates who got our current ship (the Wasp) by dumping the last (evil and tyrannical) Captain overboard (oops! How unfortunate, sea travel is dangerous, you know). The actual situation is the Druid is good alignment (he just wants to help people and things grow, the poor naive fellow) while the others are fairly mercenary, so he tends to be the conscience of the group (“no, they surrendered, you can't just kill them for the gold in their teeth!”). 

My backstory was that I was from a different archipelago, told in visions by the spirits to come to this place, because great evil (a threat to the land) was on the rise here. I tied this into my bond with the wizard: “the spirits spoke to me of a great danger that follows him”. I didn't want to go, and had to leave my girl behind, but she said she'd wait for me. Just how far will my character go to follow the spirits is my question of interest.

So the GM opened the action aboard ship, with us realizing we were being followed by another vessel. I turned into an eagle and headed over to the pursuing ship to see what their deal was. It turned out to be a warship from the Cycanthic kingdom (one of the islands we’d made up earlier), a warlike theocracy that sought to cleanse the impure. They were much faster than our ship, so were bound to catch us soon. In fact their arbalest (sp?) was coming into range, so I used one of my eagle moves to tangle a soldier up in the works, incapacitating the mechanism for awhile. 

When I got back to the Wasp, we tried to figure out why these guys were after us. Finally the barbarian wondered if it had anything to do with the crown he'd stolen, from another gang of thieves on the last island. The wizard grabbed the crown and performed a ritual to analyze it. The player flubbed the roll spectacularly, and became possessed by the spirit of “The Serpent King.” Glowing ethereal serpents flowed out of his body and thrashed along the deck. Our sailors freaked out, and the barbarian tried to solve the problem by beating on the wizard (it didn't work). I tried to help the wizard, grabbing him and trying to talk him down, but this led to my spirit being transported to the same plane his was on. The Serpent King had the wizard in his grasp, but working together we were able to free ourselves: a large part of my role was reminding the wizard of who he was and what he really wanted (“it’s not what this *thing* is telling you! Come back to your friends!”). I really liked this scene, and the interaction between the wizard and druid.

Meanwhile the Cycanthic warship had closed in, and then they pinned us with grappling lines. As their soldiers prepared to board, I attempted to distract them by grabbing the crown and running along the side of the ship, crying “hey, you guys lose this?” I leaned over the side, preparing to drop the crown into the water. This worked, and the Cycanthic leader (a huge cleric with a magic war hammer) started frantically shouting orders; the soldiers turned to focus on me. This confirmed they were after the crown, and I hoped this would give the rest of the group the opportunity to get some tactical advantages. The barbarian was having none of it though (his goal was fame and glory) and charged, bellowing as he ran at the soldiers.  The fighter led our crew after the barbarian, while the wizard tried to get to a better position, but flubbed again and the poor fellow actually fell off the ship. I turned into an eagle (the crown changed with me as part of my magic), hoping I could get to the enemy ship and maybe parley with the crown as a prize, before too many people got killed. 

I flubbed my roll. Although I still transformed, my spirit was immediately taken to confront the Serpent King once more. This time, the figure tried temptation: “look at all the lands of the world, laid out before you. With my power, you can remake the world into your image. Imagine your perfect world, all the animals and humanoids living and working together in peace, as your heart truly desires. Just put on the crown, and all this will be so.” The Druid was tempted, but retained enough wits to look more deeply into what was going on. A bit of discern realities revealed that a lot of this was deception: although the crown was a tremendously powerful artifact that allowed one to change the world profoundly, it was not likely to just grant your wishes. When I hesitated, the Serpent King’s eyes glowed with rage. “You WILL put on the crown!” it shouted, and used its will to try to control the Druid. I made a successful (Defy Danger with Wis, I think) roll, and narrated how I felt my magical connection to the Land, and how this reminded me that I was not a ruler of it but a simple servant. My very being was essentially this, and so I could not remake or destroy the Land, nor yield my will to any other creature. The King’s power flowed over me without effect, and I found myself free and back in eagle form. This was my moment of awesome for the game.

Meanwhile, a bunch of soldiers battered the poor barbarian almost to a pulp and were tying him up, while the evil cleric really beat the hell out of the fighter, using that magic war hammer of his. The hammer had the interesting property of, when you were hit, giving you visions of past events that you felt guilty about. As the unfortunate fighter failed roll after roll, each time he failed he narrated a new incident of something unsavory he’d done earlier in life. I loved this, as we got a lot of new insight into his character.

The wizard, while floundering in the water, somehow managed to blast a hole into the side of the warship and climb in. Once there he fought a giant snake and set the belowdeck on fire. He stumbled out onto the main deck, smoke billowing around him, to see the situation I just described. He sent magic missiles at the guys tying up the barbarian.

I knew now that the crown was much too powerful to give to the imperialist Cycanthics, so any thought of parley was gone. The fighter had few hit points left so I swooped down to help him out. I was a bit concerned I’d be interrupting his dramatic fight, so I checked in with him and he said “no, no I’m almost out of hp, get him off me!” I used my eagle move to grab the cleric and drag him off the ship; he shouted defiant, fanatic slogans on his way down to the waves. With the fighter freed, he and the wizard made short work of the remaining opposition, and the burning warship sank beneath the sea.

Reflections: overall I really enjoyed the session, appreciated the amount of player input the GM was willing to incorporate, and liked how we found out more about each other's characters in-game.

Based on my understanding of the Big Model, it sounds like mostly narrativist play - there was no Story Before, and any story emerged from playing our characters and interacting with the setting, so Story Now. Does that sound correct? 

I do wonder about one player, the fighter. He grumbled a bit when having to come up with regrets, and seemed mostly interested in tactics. So maybe more gamist?

Anyway thanks for reading, and I’d appreciate any insights or feedback.

Best, Manu

 
Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Hey, let's do that last thing first, because it's important ...

... it's important not to do. "Typing" games isn't the point. Nor is typing people, at least, not in terms of a Meyers-Briggs equivalent, or of some hidden motive that one can spot by noting little tells. What sometimes look like those things are always some subset of examining real play, as a group-imagined and procedural activity. In other words, such talk is not a conclusion of thinking about role-playing, especially when it stops talking about the role-playing and starts talking off-road about this-or-that moment or this-or-that person's psychology

I'm not happy at all with this sudden resurrection of 2005-era GNS talk here, at this site, complete with the constant counter-productive fascination with minute, isolated bits of play. Contrary to possible popular belief, it's not my obsession or constant focus. What I said in "Playing on purpose" is all we need, with its wiggle room for exactly how one wants to level or parse it.

Did your group play-on-purpose in that fashion? That's your question, I think. It may be that you all didn't, when you step back and think about the whole thing. Particularly when you get past the huge stumbling block, in gamer culture, concerning whether play proceeded without a meltdown. That in itself is not a purpose, despite it often being considered as a notable achievement.

Let's look at it without that stumbling block. Never mind "We play to imagine! We play to explore! We play to play!" Apparently the group successfully managed to generate and attend to, simultaneously, an identifiable set of fiction: events, outcomes, characters doing things, things being done to them. Everything you said you liked about the session is part of that, and the way you did it. That's fine but not enough for purpose-type talk.

Was there a collective, identifiable, above-all evident purpose to it? Never mind what you felt internally, or what someone else may have felt internally. That's not the question. Nor is which of many procedural acts seemed to float anyone's boat, in isolation. No one else reading this was there, so you have to do it. Think in raw human social terms and look at the group and the whole thing, not any one person or moment. You can see such a purpose in so many other different activities, carried out voluntarily in leisure, so it isn't hard to see it, if present, in this one. It's also not hard to see whether, to the contrary, there wasn't one.

Dreamofpeace's picture

Oops! Apologies for not understanding, and dragging you back to somewhere you didn't want to go. It looks like I'll have to go review stuff again, as I'm clearly not getting the essence of where you're coming from. I won't have much free time for a while though, so it'll be a bit before I can post again. Thanks for your patience.

Best, Manu

Ron Edwards's picture

Whoa partner, I think you're already there, no need to review. I think all that foofaraw with Vincent just distracted you.

Let's look at that system in action! I'd like you to try to draw its diagram and we can check it out here in the comments.

PedroPereira's picture

May I chime in? I think it's important to make a few points clear about DW. DW is a character-driven game, like virtually all PbtA games are. It's not an "old-school dungeon crawler with modern mechanics" even though it was marketed as such by the authors in its Kickstarter. The OP said:

 

I do wonder about one player, the fighter. He grumbled a bit when having to come up with regrets, and seemed mostly interested in tactics. So maybe more gamist?

Clearly, the player playing the fighter was expecting what I mentioned above. But the system as designed doesn't make for tactical combat anymore than Apocalypse World does.  I see "loot" mentioned a lot in the comments above, but it's important to notice that this is an almost irrelevant part of the game. In D&D/OSR, loot is important in many ways: it's part of the benefit of killing stuff; loot that gives you new weapons, new armor, new magic items, xp, etc, are big things in D&D. It's tied directly to character mechanical progression, wich is a big part of D&D. None of this is of great importance in DW. Characters are extremely competent right off the bat on session one. Gaining new moves is cool, obviously, but mechanical advantage per se has minimal impact on the game's enjoyment, unlike in D&D, in which it is central. D&D/OSR is about challenging the players, it rewards player skill. The PCs are little more than avatars of the players themselves, a representation of the players on the board. DW isn't like this at all, just like virtually every PbtA game out there isn't (or "story games" for that matter. Commas are quite intentional).   If you come at DW expecting a system that will support the kind of thing you look for in D&D, you'll be dissapointed. You CAN play it like that, the same way that you can play D&D in "story game"-mode, but the system won't be there to support you. I'll give you an example of something I experienced more than 20 years ago. I had moved from D&D Red Box to AD&D 2e. I loved, loved, LOVED Ravenloft. I loved the Masque of the Red Death expansion even more. And then it hit me. Here were these super evocative settings for AD&D 2e, that screamed "this is ALL about characters, not combat, folks!" but the system they were built for screamed "your character will die because of a lousy roll if you're 3rd level or lower. This adventure is for 4-6 characters of levels 5-7. Loot as much shit as you can to gain mechanical advantage. Kill as much shit as possible. Be on the look-out for new armor, new weapons, new magical trinkets. Here's 100 loot tables to help you. Oh, and make sure to check our new Droped-Oil-Lamp-Scatter table". In other words, the settings were saying one thing, the system something completely different. It was just D&D with a different set of cloths, but still playing exactely the same. That is, setting and system were completely dissonant. At the time I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Today, ironically, I see that DW would have been a MUCH MORE adequate system for Ravenloft, Dragonlance, Birthright, and others than D&D itself was.  Not sure if this is of any value for the discussion above, but I think it's important to see what DW was designed for...and it's not OD&D-type play at all.  My two cents. PS: I'm still having problems with paragraph-breaking. Sorry for the text-block.

Dreamofpeace's picture

Hi Pedro!

I largely agree with you about DW vs. D&D (at least, as it's often played). The fighter might have been grumbling because of the perceived lack of tactics, as you suggest, or just because he failed a lot of rolls. I'll try to check in with him next time and find out.

As a nitpick, the rules of DW as written have only 4 ways (with the exception of some class moves) of getting XP: fight monsters, get loot, fail rolls, and resolve bonds; the majority of XP you'll get will be from failing rolls. So Ron's diagram is mostly correct, you might just need to add a couple more arrows for XP. Do you think anything else needs to be added?

PedroPereira's picture

As a nitpick, the rules of DW as written have only 4 ways (with the exception of some class moves) of getting XP: fight monsters, get loot, fail rolls, and resolve bonds; the majority of XP you'll get will be from failing rolls. So Ron's diagram is mostly correct, you might just need to add a couple more arrows for XP. Do you think anything else needs to be added?

Can't really say, because my comment was just to clarify a bit what DW was designed to do for the most part and what it tends to do well at the table. I felt it could be something for you guys to keep in mind for your discussion. So I haven't really been paying attention to the diagrams and all that, and I'll leave that you. I do think, and this has been my feeling for a long time, that the authors of DW don't seem to have been really sure about what the game should be doing in the first place. For example, given how combat works in DW, and how (mostly) irrelevant mechanical advantage from new armor and weapons is, I don't see much point in making XP from loot a thing or to waste pages of text on essentially useless hirelings' rules. They also just uncritically copy-paste from Apocalypse World the idea that players can't have the same playbooks but then say that if your initial PC kicks the bucket than it's fine to choose a plybook already in play. Huh? In DW, the whole idea that your fighter isn't just a fighter but The Fighter just doesn't really gel imho, unlike AW and other PbtA games. Outside of these quibles, the game plays really well, and I'd use it any day of the week over D&D/OSR to play the classic AD&D 2e campaign settings that beg for character-driven gameplay. For pure roguish old-school dungeon crawling, nope.

Ron Edwards's picture

With respect, I'd like to establish a higher standard for talking about D&D as a concept. There  is no "OSR" in terms of a particular way to role-play or to design games, nor an "ODD." These are non-historical marketing terms, and the extent that they do affect game design and play, applies to late-stage conformity now that the marketing is perceived as reality, rather than to basic features of an activity which, in a better world, the terms would have emerged to describe.

So I'm not interested in whether Dungeon World is perceived or misperceived as any such thing; I'm interested in whether it's an expression of The Crawl (itself a fine thing). I appreciate that you're saying "it's not," and also, your point that its creators claimed it would be is not trivial.

So, here's my point: if Dungeon World isn't a Crawl game, then what does it do? I submit the rather hostile claim that it doesn't do anything, and that the next step in the discussion is to stop letting it hide behind Apocalypse World's skirts.

The phrases "Powered by the Apocalypse" and "Apocalypse Engine" are meaningful game by game, although what they're meaningful about anyway, I leave that up to the people who are fiercely debating it elsewhere. But what they aren't is an excuse to say your game does a thing when it doesn't do anything, just because you call character classes "skins," you call role-playing "Moves," and you include the so shocking innovation of a 2d6 resolution roll.

I worked out that diagram for DW with Manu for a reason: it's a big nothing. If it were embedded in a larger schema, e.g. the Crawl, that'd be different. Since that doesn't apply, and I don't see any such thing at that level based on any observation or account of playing the game I've encountered. I see a lot of wide-eyed pointing at either so-called ODD or Apocalypse Engine depending on who's asking what, and nothing else.

Ron Edwards's picture

[Pedro emailed me with the concern that we were talking past one another. What follows is part of my reply intended to get us more in tune with what the other is saying, and also keep the discussion in the public sphere.]

There are too many little components in this discussion, so that each one is becoming a distraction. For example, we don't need to argue about ODD/OSR; that's not the topic at all. And it's way too easy for me to start in on how the "compatibility" across those titles designated as such is a delusion. For another example, I'm adamant that "D&D" is not a meaningful noun, especially not "how things are played" using it, and that many discussions have to change radically when I insist a person state what title and what instances of play they mean by the term.

Tempting as it is to hash any of that out, it'd be a good example of shitty internet discourse that sprawls all over the place and doesn't yield much dialogue. We're just going to have to start a list.

There also seems to be a little miscommunication, so to help with that: you and I agree that Dungeon World is not the Crawl. I'm not arguing that it is.

Now for the point. If people are having fun with the game, then it does have a purpose, or rather, those particular people are playing-with-purpose using it. I'm open to the possibility, but that's a big if. If it’s true for a given table, then that particular table deserves a good scrutiny for how the rules in action served that purpose.

However, so far, what I've seen is exactly what Manu described, which is at most energetic and constantly distracting – to find the fun, he basically has to role-play for himself inside his own head about his guy. But since it's not a grinding bore, and it’s full of yuk-yuk moments, that's deemed "fun.” (one-shot con play is also a factor here)

In other words, this kind of game experience is called good simply because the other play-experiences they've had using these tropes are so shitty. I'm reminded of people talking about how great Paranoia was ... but in each case, it only had meaning as a parody version of the other games they'd played, and once that joke was played-out, and when one person (at least) got sick of being the butt of immediate circumstances, they stopped.

So a certain frantic account of “We had fun! My guy rolled a big number and exploded the goblin with a blue bolt! John’s guy failed his save, so he fell on his head and had to run around doing stupid things!” is very familiar to me. I was in plenty of it with AD&D (late 70s version), Rolemaster, and later, Fudge and similar designs. These are hot-air techniques, pumping up play in short-term units. Some of the work at the early Forge went this way, including Clinton’s Donjon, Jared’s octaNe, and some of the design-hacks of The Pool. I'd be willing to investigate my own Elfs with an eye toward it.

Our real point of contention seems to be emergent vs. scripted plot. I think that would be a great topic to continue with.

Namely, that I’m still waiting for an account of Dungeon World play which shows me its alleged emergent plot function in any sense beyond that frantic fill-in effect. I’m open to the possibility that it’s happening out there somewhere. Meanwhile, I will keep whack-a-moling when people keep diverting with, “But it’s not that terrible other game [the straw man of unspecified D&D],” or “But it’s Powered by the Apocalypse! It must be good!”, or “But it’s old-school! [meaning it has elves and dwarves] so that’s good!”

PedroPereira's picture

Hi Ron,
 
I'm not sure what you mean by "establish a higher standard for talking about D&D as a concept", but that may be me just being thick. My view is that if I'm going to play D&D I'll do so under a different set of expectations than if I'm going to play DW, which I don't think is a contentious observation. Yes, OSR/OD&D and the perceived "right way to play it" are, to a great extent, a modern fabrication born from looking back with nostalgia and a dissatisfaction with more recent versions of the game. Back then, in practice, each gaming group was doing its own thing and there was no great unifying vision about what that thing was, meaning by extension that there was never really any "right way" to do it. But regardless of that, playing Lamentations or Swords & Wizardry does imply certain assumptions, and the game (or games) are designed to support a particular experience (which lead to certain design choices). And I do think that overall, they are very similar, in purpose and mechanics, to the extent that I have no quibbles putting Lamentations, Swords & Wizardry, D&D Basic, OSRIC, and many others into the same bag (e.g. OSR). Again, I don't think this is contentious. Perhaps I didn't put it in the most elegant terms, but I think you understood what I meant from context? As much as these terms may irk us, and I have my personal quibbles with "story-games", I personally think that, within some limitations, they are useful to telegraph some basic assumptions regarding what we are about to play.
 
Going more specifically into the discussion regarding that maybe DW just doesn't do anything, based on a diagram analysis: it does Elves n' Dwarves fantasy with the smell of D&D, with very cinematic, streamlined, combat mechanics, coupled to an overall system that supports emergent as opposed to scripted plot very well, and a focus on characters, including the avoidance of character deprotagonisation. This is just a plain English description and not some kind of formal analysis. Your diagram analysis, on the other hand, says it's a big nothing, but I suggest that it must be doing *something* well, diagram or no diagram, and I don't see any evidence that people are just fooling themselves into believing they're having fun and following the herd. 
 
Originally I though that you weren't suggesting the latter either, but your clarification clearly states that
 
"However, so far, what I've seen is exactly what Manu described, which is sure as hell not fun - merely distracting - forcing him basically to role-play for himself inside his own head. But since it's not a grinding bore, that's deemed "fun" when people talk about it. In other words, DW is called good simply because the other experiences they've had with play using these tropes is so shitty."
 
That's not how I read Manu's text, unless I missed some finer point in the block of text. He said:
 
"Reflections: overall I really enjoyed the session, appreciated the amount of player input the GM was willing to incorporate, and liked how we found out more about each other's characters in-game.
 
I do wonder about one player, the fighter. He grumbled a bit when having to come up with regrets, and seemed mostly interested in tactics. So maybe more gamist?"
 
To me it seems only one player had an actual bad experience, and it wasn't Manu. And as I stated in a previous post, it seems he was expecting a different focus of play, one in which tactics was more important than conflicting emotions or exploring "big questions" about the "human condition". I don't see this as a problem inherent to DW at all. For all I know, if that player was playing, say, MonsterHearts instead he would have had the same problem. Manu never told us if he asked the other player what his/her problem was, so we don't know, but I don't see any evidence that Manu and everyone at the table were having a bad time, just that one player. In a different post in this thread you say:
 
"Yes, it's frantic and gets really eventful really fast, and yes, fighting and loot basically shower the characters at all times. For people weary of stressed-and-dull versions of corridor exploration and mapping, and of the grind-it-down stressed-and-dull fights I described above, yes, it's a solution. But in the absence of strategic context, there's not much point ... no purpose for buy-in, in the sense I'm using "playing on purpose." That strategic context is exactly what you were asking about, the sunk-cost part and the go-back-in part."
 
That analysis assumes that DW wants to do dungeon crawling and that that's the "buy-in", the "purpose"., and that it fails on those grounds. However, the whole "dungeon crawling with modern rules" is just marketing talk, as we agreed. What the game wants to do, its general purpose, is Elves n' Dwarves fantasy with the smell of D&D, with a focus on characters, in which the dungeons are just a painted backdrop scenario for the action or character drama. A more specific purpose has to brought to the table by the players for the game at hand. The real question is if the game supports it. In my experience, in generally does so. The way I see Manu's game, only one player was unsatisfied with it. He wanted meat, he got fish. I see no evidence for DW having failed at anything. If anything, it was that player's expectations that failed him/her. Like you, I've seen much gameplay online. I've played DW, but not a lot, and a long time ago. I saw a game that works well and provides satisfying experiences, but like any other game, this will depend a lot on the group. In other words, a more specific purpose is brought in by the players, as you state here:
 
" If people are having fun with the game, then it does have a purpose, or rather, those particular people are playing-with-purpose using it. I'm open to the possibility, but that's a big if. If it’s true for a given table, then that particular table deserves a good scrutiny for how the rules in action served that purpose."
 
Good, then. I had fun with it in the past, lots of people did and still do, so regardless of the origin of that purpose, the game is doing its job. In that case, what's the problem, then? Are people just lying to themselves, trying to concince themselves they're having fun? Mass delusion? I don't buy it.
 
Then you say at some point in these posts:
 
"So a certain frantic account of “We had fun! My guy rolled a big number and exploded the goblin with a blue bolt! John’s guy failed his save, so he fell on his head and had to run around doing stupid things!” is very familiar to me. I was in plenty of it with AD&D (late 70s version), Rolemaster, and later, Fudge and similar designs. These are hot-air techniques, pumping up play in short-term units. Some of the work at the early Forge went this way, including Clinton’s Donjon, Jared’s octaNe, and some of the design-hacks of The Pool. I'd be willing to investigate my own Elfs with an eye toward it."
 
"However, so far, what I've seen is exactly what Manu described, which is at most energetic and constantly distracting – to find the fun, he basically has to role-play for himself inside his own head about his guy. But since it's not a grinding bore, and it’s full of yuk-yuk moments, that's deemed "fun.” In other words, this kind of game experience is called good simply because the other play-experiences they've had using these tropes are so shitty."
 
The problem is that you're giving yourself arbiter rights to tell everyone else what "good" is. You're telling everyone "You think it's good, but it isn't". See the problem there? You're making a very strong implied assertion regarding what everyone else should consider good and fun. Manu at no point had any problems with how the game went, as far as I can see. Just that other player, that for all we know, wanted "tactical combat" and no philosophical character introspection in his fantasy gaming. As you said above "If people are having fun with the game, then it does have a purpose, or rather, those particular people are playing-with-purpose using it". Good, so what's the problem then? Who am I to say that big explosions, frantic action, and flashy magic isn't by itself enough for many players? Am I entitled to do some 50 cent psychoanalysis and tell them that they just think they're having fun? I don't think so.
 
 
Finally, you say:
 
"Our real point of contention seems to be emergent vs. scripted plot. I think that would make a great topic to continue with. Namely, that I’m still waiting for an account of Dungeon World play which shows me its alleged emergent plot function in any sense beyond that frantic fill-in effect. I’m open to the possibility that it’s happening out there somewhere."
 
[My emphasis]. I don't think this is our real topic of contention, but now that you mention this, I've seen DW gameplay doing completely different things. Adam Koebel, from what I've seen online, likes that kind of chaotic, everything-goes kind of gameplay. I hate it. For the same token, I've also seen Apocalypse World play that was little more than "explosions and shit" too. But I've also seen very satisfying DW sessions (for me personally), e.g. from The Gauntlet and run by Jason Cordova, and DW works perfectly well for his mystery/horror fantasy sessions. I especially like his Domenico Castafiel series. You should check those on Youtube or at the Gauntlet website, who knows, perhaps it would change your mind. My own (limited) experience tells me the game works fine as long as there is some discussion regarding tone and what we as players want out of our game in particular. It is not as direct in purpose as "we'll use D&D Basic with Caverns of Thracia", which already entails all the intent you need, but it doesn't need to.
 
Meanwhile, I will keep whack-a-moling when people keep diverting with, “But it’s not that terrible other game [the straw man of unspecified D&D],” or “But it’s Powered by the Apocalypse! It must be good!”, or “But it’s old-school! [meaning it has elves and dwarves] so that’s good!”"
 
Oh, I'm 100% with you there.
 
- Pedro
Dreamofpeace's picture

Ok, I'll take a stab at it...

Dungeon World Diagram Attempt

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

Oops let's try that again...

DWDiagram

Ron Edwards's picture

H'm, hmm hmm. Let me try it while thinking of the fiction as a given, without the need to keep revisiting it through the arrows. It may look weird or too skeletal, but that's part of the point. We're not diagramming "how Dungeon World" works in an experiential sense, so we can pass over different Moves' details, or the difference between damage and disadvantageous positioning.

I haven't played the game or studied it, so you'll have to let me know if there's a mechanics difference between improving one's score and the term "leveling." I'm also not at all sure how loot relates to XP, so based what I did here from your diagram, so you'll have to tell me if what I did is right or wrong.

You'll notice it's not a cycle. That raises a really interesting point: whether Dungeon World is correctly considered an application, or particular expression, of a certain Big Diagram which many RPGs have taken as their foundation. (Important: it's not "D&D" - only a few of the games of that title qualify, definitely not the majority.)

The elements which you included in your diagram, and which I've sorta skeletonized into my sort of diagram, are the way Dungeon World handles the "middle" of this one, or at least that's my surmise at the moment. I really don't know if the particular, highly-specific sunk-cost strategizing inherent to this diagram is present in (or rather, encompasses) playing this game. You'll have to tell me.

I've got quite a bit to say about this diagram and the myriad fashions by which different games have filled in its blank spots (why to go back in, for example), and the diversity of options by which one indvidually contributes to success or is vulnerable to perils (i.e., character types). That's not my topic here, and I'll probably address it during my continued consulting with Tor Erickson.

I'm interested in the very common play which does not do this diagram, but ... sort of, pretends to, in the course of more "run through this plot" type play. In your view, is Dungeon World more oriented toward the strategizing intrinsic to the bigger diagram, or to the "run through this plot" type of play with attached trappings of dungeon-crawling?

Dreamofpeace's picture

Ok, let's start with the easy part first. Your diagram looks correct to me. The only way to improve one’s ability scores in DW is through leveling up (although you can get temporary improvements [e.g., +1 forward to your next roll] from someone helping you, a previous successful roll, etc.), with the possible exception of some magical boost. One thing I forgot to mention is that you can also get XP by resolving a bond with another character; this is done with role playing and doesn't require a roll, so perhaps for completeness there should be another arrow going to XP from “resolving bonds” (or “significant character interaction” or however you’d like to put it)?

As to whether DW matches the middle of your Big Diagram, it does at least in part. If you take few risks and always succeed in your rolls, you can still gain XP and advance (loot, resolving bonds), but it will be at a much slower pace than if you take more risks and fail more rolls (thus getting into more danger).

Is DW oriented to a “run through this plot” type of play? The rules explicitly say not to do that, and use the typical Apocalypse World concepts of agenda, principles, GM moves, and fronts. So I’d say no. Although the GM is advised to prepare some dangers and challenges (the fronts), the game is supposed to run in a way such that significant plot points can only occur in the midst of play, and aren't pre-determined.

I can't yet answer about the strategizing intrinsic to the Big Diagram you mention, as I don't understand it yet :) Specifically the “why you go in” (to what exactly?) and “turnaround point” boxes I need help with.

 

Ron Edwards's picture

Cool. I left out temporary advantages from rolls, +1 going forward and all that stuff, because they seem to me ultimately to result in either "good" outcomes (loot and XP), or "bad" ones (serious injury, death). Putting in a resolving bonds arrow to XP is good; I would have to learrn the rules for bonds to see whether more arrows are concerned with them. E.g., Hx is an arrows-based subroutine for Apocalypse World, but its varying equivalents in the Engine games are often different.

I was a little reluctant to throw up my big Crawl Diagram at this point as it makes more sense with a real presentation of its own, and I'm setting that up for a bit later. A lot of people have played in what look like dungeon-crawls which don't follow what the diagram is showing, so I know there's a lot of room for confusion. Clearing that means explaining Against the Cult of the Reptile God in detail, and yeah, that's just going to have to be over in Seminar.

OK, so what was the point of me asking to diagram this, and you being so patient with me about it? It's this: what I'm seeing in your account is a lot of hijinks, including a system in which any roll allows the GM to change-up the immediate danger and to make as much use of the available colorful material as possible. It's clearly a solution to the problem of going toe to toe with a monster, and grinding away at each other's hit points with whatever each opponent uses to do that, repeat, repeat, repeat.

But it's also ... well, it's a bit like Donjon, Clinton Nixon's game from around 2001. Yes, it's frantic and gets really eventful really fast, and yes, fighting and loot basically shower the characters at all times. For people weary of stressed-and-dull versions of corridor exploration and mapping, and of the grind-it-down stressed-and-dull fights I described above, yes, it's a solution. But in the absence of strategic context, there's not much point ... no purpose for buy-in, in the sense I'm using "playing on purpose." That strategic context is exactly what you were asking about, the sunk-cost part and the go-back-in part. So I guess I better get to that Seminar presentation pretty soon.

Anyway, I'm not looking for agreement since my point isn't backstopped by that presentation, but if it were, I'd say that without such a context, the only thing to do is just roll-roll-roll, while hoping you get more outcomes in the good and less in the bad. If you do, then you can internally jazz up the "how my character feels" part and enjoy it, as you did; if you don't, then you eventually get pretty worn down by being told "feel it" as the character gets hosed, as perhaps the player of the fighter did. None of that is a purpose of play as I'm describing them.

Apropos of another recent post here, what you described looks a hell of a lot like playing Toon. That's not intended to be a slam but rather a fully serious observation, open for discussion.

Santiago Verón's picture

Regarding Ron's mention of Toon: You mean it's possible for a player of Toon to feel left out of the game because of bad rolls? Ha, it's just occurred to me that Toon has a mechanic that can literally put you out of the game for three minutes because of a bad roll. Am I on the right track?

Ron Edwards's picture

Yes, you are, although I was not really focusing on the small or local issue about one person with a few bad rolls. That would be a side or subordinate case for my main point, which is that rolling in the moment is essentially all you ever do, that extravagant consequences are expected to jump off each roll like a springboard, and that they aren't really consequences, as the only real consequence is how great or dumb your character looks at that point. The larger situational concerns aren't affected by the rolls at all; those are all in someone else's hands, i.e., mandated to be the GM's mighty improvisational imagination.

That might sound like a privilege, but in practice it's an exhausting and emotionally demanding burden, as this same GM is under intense scrutiny to be sufficiently entertaining and satisfying, moment to moment as well as "in sum" for the session.

The player is forced to have fun only insofar as he or she can get into the character's head and "feel it" as much as possible, which is to say, isolated from the other players (except to make fun of their shitty rolls and expect them to like it), and unable to articulate how on earth any of this was fun as a social activity. I saw this myself when playing Toon and I see it practically verbatim in the post.

Santiago Verón's picture

Whoa. Damn. Thanks for this. I see it now, the eye of AP is working.

I remember rereading Toon in my teen years, wondering if I could adapt it to FUDGE to see if that would make it work. Doing the math and realizing that at the best abilities level, characters fail 20% of the time. Wondering is the game's supposed to do heavy use of all the random tables, ensuring surprising outcomes every time. Imagining if a good game would be like the characters bouncing around like a pinball machine, like the springboard you say.

As you know, I have some experience with comedy. I do stand up, I took a class on Comedy in Radio, I helped teach it the following year. I read Freud's The joke and it's relationship with the subconscious (no idea what the actual English title is). This reminds me of an important point, hammered again and again, that while every punchline is a surprising, not every surprising event is a punchline. You don't get humor simply by having random things happen.

Sorry for going off topic. But if you could recommend me any comedy RPG that you think that works, you would help me out a lot. Like really help me.

 

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