Monday, November 11, 2013

Actual Play Report + Review: Dungeon World - 1st Session and Impressions pt1

Let me start this post with a bit of a confession: I have been rather skeptical about Dungeon World in general.

This is not because I am not on-board with the new-skool of narrative-driven RPG mechanics: my love of the largely narrative-driven Fate is well documented.

Nor is it because I am skeptical of the whole OSR flavored games movement on the whole. Hell, I started with D&D 'red box' (complete with the awesome Larry Elmore cover!). So I cannot be anti-OSR: OSR is part of my origin story, son. I am of the old-skool, by definition: it's in my blood.

That being said, looking through Dungeon World at my FLGS I saw the following problems with with it:

  • Layout. Good layout makes or breaks the presentation of a game for me nowadays. Dungeon World could use some help in this regard, IMHO: there's a lot of wasted space in that book,
  • Class-based characters. Remember what I said about being pro-OSR above? This is largely true...but I've moved on. I want to play the character that I envisioned at the table, not some template that some remote game-designer thought was appropriate for the game. 
  • Everything in the game revolves around the classic six stats: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, Wisdom. Ho-hum. We are going to party like it's 1979, it seems.

But...when my friend Gary invited me to join a game using the Dungeon World engine, I could hardly say no: Gary is a good yegg, plus I have come to trust in his abilities as a GM and all-around idea guy.

Since what makes or breaks any RPG is the table + the game master, I decided to put aside my skepticism and give the system a go.

For the game, Gary presented the following environment:
The city of Dis is a dungeon that connects all other dungeons. Its sewers and cisterns sink their roots into the underworld. Its pinnacles and spires grasp at the celestial spheres and have begun to spread across the face of the moon. 
To the west are the docks that gnaw at the elemental reaches, where ships come and go on the seas of fire, air, and water. And in every direction are the planes, tiny as a small fiefdom or large enough to seem infinite, but all in great peril.

The city of Dis is a living thing, hungrily devouring all the planes it touches. In the lost or forgotten parts of any decadent civilization—its deserted ruins or squalid sewers—Dis has already begun its conquest, absorbing and remaking things, but also taking on the traits of the worlds it digests. 
Adventurers aware of this invasion use the city’s beachheads to travel between the planes, simply by journeying through Dis. The city has already consumed dozens of planes, and refugees from countless worlds fill its streets. 
Where else is there to go? Plus, grotesque as it is, Dis now contains the last remnants of their homelands.
A largely empty map? Money!

The environment itself is entirely a 'dungeon' as well, per the game notes:
Everything is a dungeon: The PCs’ residences, the streets they walk, the plane of fire, the thieves guild headquarters, the sewers beneath the city, any given wizard’s tower, the astral sea, the path that leads from one plane to another, the lesser hell of slicing, even the wild places... these can all be dungeons. 
This is Dungeon World. The entire setting is basically one giant dungeon and the players merely travel from one portion of it to another, including all the planes that make up existence. Thinking of it in these terms will help you avoid wandering or unfocused play. 
The world is a dangerous and exciting place, no matter where you are. While everyone has adapted to living in this world of dungeons, threats remain constant.
 Well, now I don't know about you, dear reader: but this is definitely My Bag, Baby. Clearly the environment itself allows for a wide variety of different character types. The sky is the limit here! I can play anything!

So with these limitless possibilities, what did I choose?

I chose an elf.

In particular, I chose this elf:
Elf booty's got soul: elf booty knows to rock n' roll. 
This is Naeriel Bladesong aka Naya Hushblade, a character who I have statted out in three systems so far (links below), but have yet to play in any active game. My character description is as follows:
An elvish duelist, she lives only to find worthy opponents and thus carry on the songs of her ancestors in battle.
I also added the embellishment that her elvish homeland of Andulan was swallowed by by the city of Dis, becoming the Central Park of the city. The GM liked this idea, and this now became part of the city map (Andulan was now a 'parish' of Dis).

As she is a 'Duelist' in my fiction, the Fighter template for Dungeon World seemed to be the best overall fit for her. When choosing alignment, I chose 'Neutral' as the description seemed to fit my character concept quite well:
  • Neutral: Defeat a worthy opponent.
Plus, my concept of her being an agile fighter rather than relying on brute force was well-supported as well:
  • Elf: Can always treat two-handed swords as if they had the precise tag (Dex-based action)
I was also pleased to find that although characters lacked the 'aspects' granted by Fate (more on this later), via the system of 'Bonds' she was able to tie into the party in variety of ways that fits her role as party protector. So far, so good!

At this point it is probably good to cover the basic mechanics of Dungeon World:
  • You have series of basic moves available, as well as those offered by Class: Hack and Slash, Defy Danger, Defend, Spout Lore, Discern Realities, Parley, & Aid or Interfere; all of the above are What They Say on the Tin: H&S is Fighting, Defy Danger is dodge/avoid, Defend is defensive actions, Spout Lore is declare knowledge (Int), Discern Realities is Notice/Investigate, Parley is CHR based actions, and Aid or Interfere is related to Bonds.
  • For any move, roll 2D6+modifier: a result of 1-6 is a failure, 7-9 is success at a cost, 10+ is an unmitigated success. 
  • Damage is class rather than weapon based -  weapons simply grant narrative bonuses. As a Fighter, Naeriel rolls 1d10 for her damage rolls. 
As mentioned above, there is also the mechanic of Bonds: this is manged in play, and ties the character to the group. For Naeriel, her Bonds are as follows:
  • I have sworn to protect Jagelio.
  • I worry about the ability of Briza to survive in the dungeon.
These 'bonds' ties her to the party in a unique way, and allows for XP gain in play as well. As mentioned above, this game-play mechanic is very cool, and reinforces Naeriel's party role as a defender. 

Overall? I like the system a lot. More thoughts on the system in play can be found in Part 2, where I cover actual game-play. 

In the interim, feel free to check out Naeriel/Naya's stats as expressed by Fantasy Craft, Mutants & Masterminds and Dungeon World via the links below.