For December’s game-of-the-month, I played in a session of Dungeon World run by Brent Newhall. The game started as a hack of Apocalypse World inspired by old school dungeon delving but is now available as a standalone basic game from Sage Kobold Productions.
We started the session with character creation which went pretty quickly. Each class is available as a playbook that describes the moves available to the character as well as serving as a character sheet. A player just has to fill in some character details (name, description, alignment, etc), assign stats using an array of scores, and buy gear to be ready to play.
Brent then ran us through the Bloodstone Idol, the adventure included in the Dungeon World Basic Game. We ventured into the caverns surrounding the Bloodstone Idol in search of a mad wizard named Grundloch. As bold adventurers, we walked right in the front doors and quickly proceeded to delve deeper under the surface. We fought against giant fireflies and mesmerized goblins before finally confronting Grundloch and his assistant.
I haven’t played Apocalypse World, so Dungeon World was my first introduction to its mechanics. Actions in the game are resolved using moves such as “hack and slash” or “spout lore.” There are a set of standard moves available to all characters as well as special moves provided by classes. Each move requires a roll of 2d6 that results in a success on 10+ and a partial success on a 7-9. For example, when a wizard casts a spell on a 10+ the spell is cast and not forgotten while a 7-9 still results in the spell being cast but the spell draws unwelcome attention, makes it harder to cast spells until a rest, or is forgotten. This core mechanic works really well because it gives players a clear idea of the types of actions they are expected to do as heroes and also plays quickly because each roll uses the same target numbers.
If you’re interested, Brent has uploaded video and audio of us playing to his site (part 1, part 2, part 3).
What happens if a hero fails?
One of the most interest mechanical ideas in Dungeon World is the way that the moves have three general outcomes depending on how a player rolls: failure, success, and success with a tradeoff. I think this setup has two powerful ideas that a DM can borrow for Dungons & Dragons and other role-playing games. First, a DM should always think about what happens in the case of a failure when asking for a roll of the dice. After all, if a failure isn’t interesting, why bother rolling? Second, you can offer tough deals when a player fails a roll. For example, consider offering a player who misses an attack roll by 1 or 2 points a chance to still hit in exchange for letting down their guard and granting combat advantage until their next turn.
Another neat idea in Dungeon World that could be borrowed for other games is its system for awarding experience. Rather than getting experience for slaying monsters, characters are given XP for using a highlighted stat, developing bonds with other player characters, and acting in accordance to their class and alignment. Of those, I think the third is the most interesting idea for porting to other games. As an example, a good fighter in Dungeon World earns XP when she defends those weaker than her, but an evil fighter instead earns XP for killing a defenseless enemy. While I’m not sure I’d use XP as the reward in D&D 4E, I do like the idea of offering a mechanical reward for characters acting in accordance to their alignment. A good starting point for the reward would probably be a healing surge or action point.
For the next game-of-the-month article, I’m running a session of Icons featuring The Foreman, Hellcat, PEaRT, and Flare. Stop by next month to see how the heroes fair against their diabolical enemies.