Dungeon World

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.

10 responses to “Dungeon World”

  1. I have to admit it. I shuddered reading your description of the character Turbo, who is in this for “girls, gains, gold and glory”. If you want to indulge my curiosity…I would like to hear more about this character. Like what they did, how they were characterized, and especially how they interacted with the other player characters.
    Just so my motives are clear here, I want to be honest. The brief description of that character immediately sent big alarm bells off in my head related to game-ruining chauvinism. However, my interest is genuine and this is not a judgement on you.

    • Hey Sam. Thank you for your question. I want to address all comments on my posts thoughtfully because I really appreciate the engagement – but I know this is a tough topic on which I probably don’t have the mainstream approach or the best formed thought.

      To your pointed question. The character ended up being indeed a big muscle – perhaps even “macho” – type, but with an undertone of a heart of gold. He was opinionated and martial with a “don’t worry, I’ve got it” attitude, but also paying attention to defending and protecting the other characters during combat.

      I did have an eyebrow raised when I heard that piece of the background. But maybe not quite for the same reason as you. The way I run my table is as follow: players (not necessarily their characters) have to be good and respectful people; it’s more of a “I will not abandon you” (rather than “no one gets hurt”) game; I use lines and veils but no X card. My fear when I heard that piece of the background was that the character may be uninteresting, and to me that’s what’s game ruining. But the character was interesting and well played. And after all some of my all-time favorite fiction characters do *claim* being about “girls, gain, gold and glory” – starting with Achilles.

  2. Hey Denis, I see a lot of “what happened in the fiction”, but not a lot of what the people at the table did to cause it, or how the system was engaged to do it.

    I’d be really interested in you expanding on the “one scene” that you described. How did you get to that point? What did Leo’s player do to establish what they were trying to do? What about the other players? What did you do to establish the situation and move your “GM pieces”? What moves were triggered, and how?

  3. Hey Claudio. Thanks for the question. Let me preface by saying this is *really* hackish, and probably horrifying to the designers of the game… And a bit long because you asked a question about a scene I *really* enjoyed.

    When I run a macro battle like this, I set it up by explaining we are “zooming out” quite a bit, and that an action will be very “abstracted”. These two words generally trigger the mindset players need on narrative and mechanics. I set the scene like I would describe the battle of Austerlitz. I explain which enemy forces are were and what their objectives could be. And then the players together set the various “fronts” and who is where to achieve what. That took them a bit, and I didn’t interfere much aside from answering questions.

    On resolution, I’ll take “Leo’s front” as an example of how we ran it. He was on the West side of the island. A massive ground forces of demons had landed there – full legion, composed of small foot soldiers and large troll sized strikers. Leo was commanding a couple of battalions of local fighters, and a group of apes and panthers summoned by Trixie to defend the island (Avatar-style). We had previously established that the ground forces had to go through a pass (think 300) and that Leo would try to hold it at least. Turbo had offered to set traps around the pass before the battle.

    In the first action I established that the enemy was moving in. Leo said that, being outnumbered, he wanted to command the troops to maneuver to try and hold the pass while getting the enemy in a weaker position. Mechanically, we treated the traps set by Turbo as an Aid move, which succeeded in getting Leo a +1 for his roll. We treated the Leo move as a Defy danger move, to which he got 9, but moved to a 10 with the benefit of Turbo’s help. Leo made it clear his goal was not to deal damage yet, but maneuver well and get the enemy in a position of weakness. Based on this roll, we described how Leo moved inside the pass with the local fighter battalions to draw the enemies, while the traps got set off to allow the panthers to move around quickly and the ape to position themselves in the heights of the pass ready to strike with boulders. The enemy was in superior forces, but now encircled and outmaneuvered.

    In the second action, Leo decided to move in and attack. I did mention to him that his superior military position made the fight about even with the greater numbers of the enemy, but nothing more – in order to set the stage for a meaningful loss of troops in the event of a <10 roll. He decided to go for it nonetheless. He used the Hack’n slash move, and got over 10 again… So I gave in on the success, and described how after being encircled in the middle of the pass, rearguard attacked, vanguard blocked, and struck from above, the enemy was decimated by Leo and his army on that front.

    We dealt with the two other fronts in a similar way. 2 actions on each, moving from front to front after each action to keep the time congruent between fronts. One front was a lot more “micro” and traditional than this by the way, but it synced with the rest.

    Not sure if that sounds exciting, or a completely break of the Dungeon World system. But we have done this a couple of times now, and we all seem to really enjoy it to deal with a massive battle in the time it takes to do a tactical combat.

    • That is great, thank you. I’ll follow up later with more questions. I wouldn’t worry about the will of the designers — they aren’t there playing with you anyways.

    • Indeed. I didn’t want to use the word “turn” or “round” because they are charged with other legacy. What I mean by action is a unit of what a character does that has a beginning and an end. Could be a structured action that gets resolved in two (or more) moves. Or an action that gets resolved with no move.

  4. Yes, that’s what I thought.

    I played a lot of Dungeon World back in the day — I won’t play it anymore.

    My impression is that in situations like these, especially when they diverge a lot from the implied fiction of the game, Dungeon World offers little structure or guidance, and a lot is customarily placed on the GM and “how they run” specific kinds of situations, essentially acting as a rules-funnel and determining who speaks when, triggering moves themselves (as opposed to the group), and repeatedly prompting players with “What do you do?” to essentially give them right to speak (as opposed to players butting in organically when their input is necessary).

    Does that match your experience?

    • Totally match. A lot on the GM and the players too. Now with that table we have a shared “way of doing things”, and that works. I wouldn’t start again with a different group and have to re-develop all of this on the DW loose frame.

      There is one concept I really enjoy about DW though in the notion that as a player you are “the bard”, not just “a bard” and get to define the bard archetype.

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