Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Dungeon World at GoPlayLeeds

On Sunday I played Dungeon World at GoPlayLeeds. This was my first experience of Dungeon World, and these are some reflections of both that session and of DW itself.

The session was hugely enjoyable, and I'm really enjoying GoPlayLeeds. The venue is nicely eccentric (BrewDog in the centre of Leeds, with lots of craft beers to try) and the staff are friendly. This was the third event, and I've yet to have a bad game there.

Guy, one of GoPlayLeeds' founders, ran The Indigo Galleon, a short scenario involving a wrecked warship, dastardly Imperials, and sinister octopus folk.

Our adventuring party consisted of myself (a salamander immolator) and two elves (a ranger and a druid).

We had a blast. I burnt lots of things, we fought monsters, rescued nefarious pirates and rescued the helpless villagers.
Getting ready to play

As for Dungeon World itself, I'd heard good things about it and when it turned up in the Bundle of Holding earlier this year I bought it (along with masses of other goodies, much of it impenetrable).

Here's what I like about Dungeon World:

Brilliantly designed character playbooks: I've seen character templates before, but for me the DW playbooks hit the spot exactly. Guy had laminated the playbooks, and it took us just a few minutes to complete them. I liked the little things that made it easy for me as a player, such as providing a list of sample names to choose from.

Proper dice: DW uses 2D6 for most rolls (damage being an exception). 2D6 are "proper" dice - the dice of Backgammon, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Traveller and my memories of early statistics lessons. (It does use some other dice for damage, but the core mechanic is 2D6.)

Graduated success rolls: There’s complete success, complete failure, and (the most common result) a “failure with complications” result - with lots of examples of how to do that. And that's all you need - and it worked well.

Explicit game values: DW wears its heart on its sleeve, and clearly sets out the GM’s agenda. I like that. The GM’s agenda is portray a fantastic world, fill the character’s lives with adventure, and (my favourite) play to find out what happens. This agenda is followed up with a series of principles. Some of my favourite principles: draw maps, leave blanks; address the characters, not the players; never speak the name of your move; give every monster life; ask questions and use the answers.

Fronts: Fronts are themed collections of threats and dangers. They include an impending doom (or what happens if the front isn't thwarted), and neatly summarise how the screws are tightened over the course of an adventure or campaign.

I don't know if this is deliberate, but quite a bit of DW resembles good business management thinking. Having a vision and principles is straight out of the business playbook (although in my experience few businesses pay anything other than lip service to them). And the fronts and character playbooks could have come from a lean improvement project.

And in case you're wondering, I think this is a good thing. There's a lot I like about current business thinking - I just wish implementation was better.

So there's a lot I like about Dungeon World. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy roleplaying - I'd rather investigate unknown horrors, become embroiled in modern-day conspiracies or adventure in the far future. But if I were to do more fantasy roleplaying, I'd rather do it with DW than D&D. (And I should say I've not played either much.)
My character playbook

If there is one thing I had to pick fault with, it's that we as a band of adventurers weren't very cohesive - although that might have been my fault for being the only salamander in a party of elves.

That's always tricky to get right at a convention game. But having said that, I'd argue that it's the most important thing to get right. I've noticed that the best con games are where the characters have worked well together as a team, and there are things we can do to facilitate that.

I spoke to Guy afterwards about this, and he wondered if some of the lack of cohesiveness was perhaps us assembling a group at late notice (we only decided to play Dungeon World when we realised we had more players than expected on Sunday). Also he thinks he could have pushed some inter-party interaction first.

Which has made me think - why is that his job? Any of us could have decided to create a bit of backstory. Perhaps that's a player principle that needs developing.

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