IN SHORT… We are 18 sessions of 4h each into a campaign of Dungeon World that is a bit of a Frankenstein monster: Dungeon World, on a loose Acquisitions Incorporated frame on it, in a world we made up using a map of Faerun without taking the elements of the D&D setting… It has turned in a collaboratively created campaign against a demonic incursion of epic scale, now near its final resolution.
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4-hour game, 4 players (3 of them are “tenured” in the campaign, 1 was new), Voice on Discord, VTT on Roll20.
What started as the group forming a new franchise of the “Acquisitions Incorporated” guild in a small town, developed over time into a full scale “battle for the land of the West” against a demonic incursion, with the factions and fronts of that large scale conflict being completely developed based on the players actions each session — with some thematic sub-plots along the way.
The group of adventurers kept fighting, as a sub-plot, attempts of a demon to come onto the plane of reality. Over time, the adventurers also discovered a few important factions in the land: the “Crimson Federation” (inspired by ST:DS9 Dominion) extending a hard protectorate across the land, a dark forest ruled by a vampire queen, some cities embroiled in internal politics, access to a neighboring underdark space, etc. When the demon finally managed to open a door and invade the land, the world turned into a set of two alliances, fighting each other for ultimate dominion.
Things look like this.
In this last session:
- Trixie — a halfling druid dealing with an “evil Trixie” future version of herself who has become a general of the demonic army, after Trixie tampered with magical item and got time cursed
- Emory — a ranger grappling with the realization, over time, that some of his actions in a conflict where ethics are sometimes unclear may have tainted his honor and his value, and trying to reclaim them for himself
- Leo — a paladin, son of the prince of a distant island, having left his birthright to his brother, and now pursuing his oath to truth, finding evil and leading armies on the battlefield
- Turbo — a halfling fighter, coming into this for “girls, gains, gold and glory”, keen to impress his father and unafraid to jump into battle to defend his companions
In this session, the characters have to jump into the dream world of Trixie, as she got stuck in there after attempting a particularly daring spell in a prior adventure. The group ends up in her dream / vision of the future, in which the demonic forces have won the battle against the West, and are now about to take over her distant home island. Trixie and the group have to consider an offer from the demon: save the island (and the spiritual tree of its people) with certainty, but let the army continue its conquest of the world OR take a stand and likely lose everything, but have a shot at stopping the army — here and now.
The ultimate outcome of the battle is of no real consequence (it’s a dream), but characters can die in the dream, and the choice ultimately directs whether the evil future version of a character is taken out of the timeline completely, or if her destiny unfolds as it did before. The players choose to take a stand — and succeed in fixing the timeline.
In the final assault, Leo takes command of 2 units of islanders and 2 units of animals defending their habitat, against a horde of demons — and lures them into a trapped pass within the mountain, before encircling them, and then wiping out an enemy in superior numbers. In the meantime, in the South, the three other characters are taking a more micro approach to kill the demon princess leading the assault by faking some willingness to negotiate, and then sniping her with a bow and arrow before being swarmed by her guard. In the North, one of their NPCs is mandated to hold the line against a third front — while the main ground forces are being stopped in the mountains, and the leader being dealt with in the South.
With the help of some really good ideas and some strong rolls, the group really manages to overtake the enemy (save for a few dicey risk taking moves), and win the conflict in a way that I had not really anticipated.
I don’t want to comment on the Dungeon World system too much. When it works it’s fine / great. When it doesn’t it’s really frustrating — the apex of which for me being when the move “Hack and slash” of “Volley” hits, the character rolls damage of 1, and I feel it breaks the fiction completely that a great hit (often enhanced with powers to make it land well) has no impact. Or when we have to follow a menu of consequences and we are all scratching our heads on what to do with it…
I do like the fact that, intended or not, it works well in “abstracted” large scale battles. In this session we managed a full scale conflict for the island in about 2 “rounds”, with multiple units of various fighters on the map and the characters being able to influence things both at the micro level, and at the macro level — without a ton of rolls. I’m not sure the system was meant for that. But we have done it a few times, and it always works well. Particularly with this group of players, and we all seem to enjoy it narratively and mechanically.