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.
31 responses to “A Session of Dungeon World”
Hey, let’s do that last thing
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.
Oops! Apologies for not
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.
Whoa partner, I think you’re
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.
Ok, I’ll take a stab at it…
Ok, I'll take a stab at it…
Oops let’s try that again…
Oops let's try that again…
H’m, hmm hmm. Let me try it
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?
Ok, let’s start with the easy
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.
Cool. I left out temporary
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.
May I chime in? I think it’s
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 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?
As a nitpick, the rules of DW
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.
With respect, I’d like to
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.
[Pedro emailed me with the
[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!”
“How to watch two people who
"How to watch two people who like each other get annoyed on-line," take # one zillion …
Anyway, I planned to reply with a moderator post calling for a week cool-down and for us to return for a new try with clear position statements. But then Pedro and I talked on Skype and that sort of turned into the exact exchange of ideas which I'd hoped would result.
Which is awesome. Watch this space for the recording of that conversation, appearing as soon as I get a moment to format it.
And here we are! In what I
And here we are! In what I guess is best called an un-moderator moment.
Parallel with Toon
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?
Yes, you are, although I was
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.
Whoa. Damn. Thanks for this.
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.
I was GM for this game. It’s
I was GM for this game. It's interesting to think back and reflect on it, as we are currently heading toward session 3 of a new game of DW.
For this first session back in 2018, I followed the rules on p. 178-180. In short, it's "Ask a lot of questions and let the answers establish details." According to my notes, the events Manu describes actually happened across two sessions. By session two, I had taken time to apply the front creation rules on page 183ff.
At the start of session 2, the fronts were 1) Sakan, the Spirit of the long dead First Emperior, wanting to possess a wizard so he can manifest in the world, and 2) the forces of the Sekalanthan Empire, seeking to recover the crown. Over the subsequent 8 sessions or so, the players sought refuge from Sekalanthan pursuers and sought ways to neutralize Sekan's mental influence. Around session 8, they disposed of the crown in a remote, deep dark place and destroyed a major pursuing Sekalanthan fleet. A few sessions after that, PCs started hitting the final level available and the major story felt finished, so we wrapped up.
I was applying what I was learning about GMing to create an emergant "now." (Two years later, I understand this approach more clearly, after reading Champions Now several times.) Attempting to put fronts in motion and refrain from orchestrating encounters or outcomes. I don't recall how often I might have applied "Intuitive Continuity" techniques — I'm pretty sure I was at least trying to avoid them.
My greatest satisfaction in this game was creating the world and the NPCs.
I recall working hard over the course of 10+ sessions to follow the game rules about asking questions and running fronts relevant to the PCs, creating NPCs that connect to the PCs, only to have the PCs avoid or walk away.
I can think of three different factors that might contribute to this: 1) we never had an explicit conversation about the purpose of play, 2) the game rules somehow fell down in helping the GM identify what would be engaging for the players, or 3) the players weren't making commitment to anything they did conribute.
I've spent a lot of my GMing career thinking I was doing something wrong because players rarely seem very invested in any particular direction for their PC. I don't know what combination of the above three possiblities this comes from, or whether there's other factors involved. I just know that I have worked my tail off for years and remain frustrated.
CODA: what I did not say above is that another reason might be that players rarely commit to a cause for their PC and pursue it. After 42 years of GMing, I've rarely seen a player do what I interpreted as that. Am I the only one who thinks this is the essence of being a protagonist in roleplaying? OR am I just a judgemental bastard?
Hi Alan! Glad to know your
Hi Alan! Glad to know your perspective on this game. For my part, I was pretty committed to following my character's goals (until I had to quit the game for logistic reasons, as you know). If I gave a different impression, I'd like to know what I could do differently, for future games.
One of the issues I had was, looking back on it, we were playing different games; I don't think N (I'm changing his initial so as not to cause any embarrassment, but you know who I mean, he was the host and played the fighter) wanted the same things out of it that I did. For example, I liked getting into the bonds and exploring deeper character moments, but he would just moan and groan out loud when I did that, which annoyed me. There was also constant friction as my character was of good alignment, and so wasn't down with the gratuitous attacks on other vessels that the others were into. Such conflict is potentially great fodder for games, and Bill and I did have some fun moments with it, but N just acted like a curmudgeon – and went out of his way to make my character look stupid more than once, for no reason I could determine. So that conflict was more stressful than fun, for me at least.
Regarding your question at the end, I think all three of the factors you mentioned were at play, (2) and (3) being most important. As you know, I personally don’t like Dungeon World as a game system, and it’s partly for this reason. The only move that really involves serious choices for a PC, or invites the GM to consider the character’s goals, is Last Breath. And the system doesn’t provide any reward or encouragement for a character to pursue a story-based goal, for the most part, so why shouldn’t the group just go around being random pirates or whatever?
With respect to (3), I think a good question is to ask why a player might not want to commit to a goal like that. It may be it’s just not their idea of fun; they don’t want to make any intense decisions, and are happy going where the wind takes them. Another possibility is it may not even be a concept for them; they’re used to the GM handing their adventuring goals out to them, running modules, and so on, so the idea that they can pursue a character-focused goal throughout a campaign is a completely alien concept. Finally (at least for me right now!), perhaps a player may not feel safe doing so, for a variety of reasons: they tried before and had disappointing experiences, or they’re afraid it might clash with what other players want to do, and so on.
CODA: what I did not say
Regarding this bit, I think there's a long standing tradition of GMs getting frustrating over players never committing to this kind of approach and yet playing and having fun. I am one, and I'm constantly courting this idea when I evalute the rules I want to implement or design. "I'm going to fix it this time!", I say to myself, devising whatever instrumentation that ultimately turns out being a roadmap of boxes to check or an elaborate carrot-on-a-stick scheme.
I don't think it can be done; not anymore.
I think the main issue here may be that that type of commitment is born out of thinking of the experience of play as a development of story, as something that exists outside of the character itself and that gels all the characters together. And this is something GMs easily do, as they don't control any of the protagonists usually, and tend to think at the player characters as an ensamble.
Meanwhile, in my personal experience, when playing games that assign them an individual character to control/be, players tend to see the process of play as exploration. They're much better thinking at what's happening here and now and what it means than the GM (ie, me) who's already preoccupied about what this means in the grand scheme, or if everything will make sense in the end, or how satisfied people are going to be in the end.
We're trying to fix something that we feel is missing, but maybe it's just that when we GM we don't get to experience that moment pleasure you get from pretending that you're the character and what you're dealing with here and now is personal and immediate. I think there's a few moments in the Spelens Hus Runequest game that illustrate that well – I watch one of the players pause and think and I can see how if I was the GM I'd be panicking thinking "What's wrong? What's not working? Why are they lost? Did I not motivate them enough?"; while as a spectactor it's clear they're just living the moment.
What I did see as long term commitment to goals, as player and GM, was instead generally some problematic and frustrating process of setting up too many expectations and too much epicness in a character's backstory ("my plucky farmer boy turned warrior will eventually get revenge on the level 17 death knight who killed his master!" or "my fledging netrunner will eventually overthrow the megacorporation") and that stuff inevitably gets in the way of allowing them to somehow enjoy what happens in between.
Lorenzo, I think you
Lorenzo, I think you misunderstand me. I'm not interested in the players addressing some kind of larger "story" — what I would like to see is them choosing something for their character to want and act on it. Typically, many players take a reactive stance, waiting for the GM to give them something to do. I've even seen this in Sorcerer, where the player gives me a kicker, to the point of setting up a great situation, then when I give it to them, they act like I have to keep hitting them with a cattleprod to do anything about it. Maybe this is the disconnect: so many players seem subconsciously condititioned to sit and take the mine shaft ride a la Temple of Doom that they don't realize they can forge out on their own.
Manu, you point out something
Manu, you point out something important: Dungeon World moves say nothing about player goals. Instead, it's the space between moves that is where players can exert their character's choices and choose directions and goals to pursue. The moves just act to resolve what happens when a character exerts influence. The game intentionally leaves the space where players can create character objectives a big blank.
I think the game's technique of asking the players questions is supposed to ellicit motivations to fill that empty space. In practice, they tend to ellicit trival answers. The game doesn't have a mechanism for consistently encouraging players to create motivations, so the players are left to their own devices. If they are unaware of or afraid to use that power, they make safe answers that produce trivial results.
This coincides with my
This coincides with my experience as well.
I think that’s exactly right!
I think that's exactly right! I also think that it actively discourages you from making more interesting choices. "Interesting" usually means putting your character at extra risk, with no benefit.
Manu’s comments leaves me
Manu's comments leaves me wondering two things: 1) why is a player playing a game about risking death when they don't want to risk death? and 2) What makes making "interesting" choice more risky that not? Perhaps we're talking about different kinds of "interesting" — declaring "I throw myself onto the ogre's back!" is both interesting and risky. It's also a kind of micro-choice and not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about, "I'm going to find a way to destroy the tyrant. What am I going to need to do that?" and actively pursuing the goal. Sure that puts you at risk, but what are you playing the game for?
With respect to the specific
With respect to the specific example you used, suppose the game system says, “ok jumping on an ogre’s back is maneuver type B under condition C, so that’s a -4 to your roll”, as opposed to “that is your character’s fighting style so add your stat bonus of +3”, or even “that’s such a fun move, here take a hero point”. In the latter cases I think more people will be inclined to jump on the ogre’s back, while in the first instance “ok, I just attack instead” is going to be more likely.
Or take D&D in whatever incarnation. Suppose I as the player say, “I throw the beer in the tough guy’s face, and toss a chair into the knees of his friend!” That sounds fun. But what is it in game mechanical terms? I bet most DMs will have me make some kind of an ability roll, probably at a disadvantage or penalty of some sort. So again, it’s easier and less risky to my character to just say “all right, I just swing at him”.
With regard to the larger
With regard to the larger point of what’s interesting, I guess that goes to the whole Creative Agenda part of the Big Model. For some reason, my mind just doesn’t quite want to grasp it, every time I thought I understood the different agendas I found out I was totally wrong. So all I can do is put what I find interesting in my own words.
IMHO, every good story is at least actually two stories: one is an action story, namely the overall plot that answers an overarching question: do the rebels stop the Death Star in time to save their base? for example. Then there’s a character story, about how the protagonist grows or not: will Luke be able to overcome his doubts? There are often other stories as well, such as a romance story, embedded in there. So what I find interesting are things that will advance any of these stories, but particularly the character story. The moments that matter to me the most are where a character is presented with a personally meaningful choice, meaningful in the sense that they (or the world) will be changed significantly from that point forward.
To bring this back to gaming, what I want from my games is for the characters to have these kinds of moments. Now these moments can’t happen if they fall victim to RSD – Random Stupid Death, or other similar obstacles. Like getting instakilled by a trap in 1st edition or whatever. If RSD is a feature of the system, I’ll try to protect my character from all unnecessary risks until I get the chance to have the kind of play that I want.
Other players may have different reasons for playing conservatively. If someone’s goal is to “win”, by accomplishing the goal of the adventure or campaign (complete the action story, in my terms), then why take any extra risks? Why jump on the ogre’s back instead of simply swinging the sword, if the colorful action is not optimal? Non-optimal actions reduce the chances of their character getting to the final scene and “winning”, which is what they want.
So Alan, what’s your own take on what you find interesting in games?
The cycle and the Big Model
Ron in an earlier post you wrote "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"
Can you suggest examples of games that are good examples of a functioning cycle? Not just of the crawl, but any rpg. I'd like to have a look and compare with DW.
Sure! I worked hard on this
Sure! I worked hard on this topic a couple of years ago:
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