Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Actual Play Report + Review: Dungeon World - 1st Session and Impressions pt2

A continuation of my earlier post about playing Dungeon World: part 1 available from the link.
I'm going to start this post about Dungeon World by not talking about Dungeon World (stay with me here, there's a point to this...)

Instead I'm going to talk about Feng Shui.

For those otherwise unaware, Feng Shui is a RPG created in the mid-nineties by the talented Robin Laws. Tied in with the same universe as the equally fun Shadowfist CCG, it was designed to emulate the fast and furious cinematic action of Hong Kong action movies, as well as works inspired by them (notably John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China).

Sometime in 199x (those years all kind of flow together for me at this point) I had the opportunity to play a game of Feng Shui with Jose Garcia, who had co-designed the Shadowfist CCG.

Now by this point I had been playing and running RPG's for over 10 years, starting with D&D 'red box' and launching from there to AD&D 1e/2e, Marvel Super Heroes, Paladium, DC Heroes, etc. So I thought that I knew my way around an RPG by then, thank-you-very-much.

But in the process of creating a character and playing the game with Jose and our group, my eyes were opened not only to a new school of RPG design, but an entirely new way of thinking: one where the GM is there to say 'yes', and not 'no'. One where the entire game was there to facilitate the kind of gonzo things you might like to do in a game, if only the rules would let you.

To provide an example, when creating my character I came to the table with just a few ideas:
Jose: So what sort of character do you want to play?
Me: I want to play an ornery Chinese waitress that yells at her customers in broken English, when not beating down bad guys with her Kung Fu.
Jose: Sounds good! There's an archetype that should work for that here...
Me: Oh, also! Is there a shtick that lets me run over people's heads? Because I want to do that.
Jose: Not in the book....but, there should be! I was thinking about making that a shtick called 'Grass Gliding' that allows you to cross surfaces that normally wouldn't support you. You want to take that?
Me: Yessir!
Needless to say, at some point during the adventure my character wound up in a narrow hallway with an army of angry mooks between her in the exit. So my little waitress just jumped up and ran over their heads to the door. In that moment, the dream became the reality. :-)

That session opened up my eyes to new possibilities in playing RPG's in general: what has become largely the 'new school' of RPG design popular today. When the game didn't have a rule to support what I wanted to do, the GM simply made up a new rule. Then he set up a scenario where exactly that skill came in handy.

So this has become my litmus test for any RPG, whatever the genre, whatever the system is:
"Is this as much fun to play as Feng Shui?"
And with the first session of Dungeon World behind me now, I can say that for this system the answer is an unqualified 'yes!'

With this thought out of the way, let's get on to the details of our game:


  • Step 1: Character Creation

Character creation in Dungeon World is a snap. The process is:
  • 1. Choose a Class. The main book has the classic Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Thief and Wizard as available choices.
  • 2. Choose a Race. To simplify things, available races are listed by Class. Each race selected grants a special move only available for that race. For my Elvish fighter, this granted her the ability to change one weapon to Hack & Slash using Dex rather than Str as the modifier. 
  • 3. Choose a Name. Honestly, this took almost as much time as the rest for my group. Fortunately, I had a name ready.
  • 4. Choose Look. I also had a picture ready, so no issues there.
  • 5. Choose Stats. You can assign these scores to your stats: 16, 15, 13, 12, 9, 8. 
  • 6. Figure Out Modifiers. Your modifiers for Moves are based on your stats, so this is important. Since 16-17 grants a +2 bonus to die rolls, this should be assigned to your logical core stat. 
  • 7. Set Maximum HP. Your maximum HP is equal to your class’s base HP+Constitution score. You start with your maximum HP. As a Fighter with 13 Con, I started with 23 HP.
  • 8. Choose Starting Moves. These are the superpowers that largely define character competence. More on this as we get to gameplay. 
  • 9. Choose Alignment. Kickin' it OSR style! Good, Neutral, Evil, Lawful and Chaotic. For our game, the whole Chaos/Order paradigm was ignored, so we were allowed any non-evil alignment. Since there were no Clerics or Paladins in the group, we all took Neutral, naturally. 
  • 10. Choose Starting Gear. Each Class gets an available gear list to choose from. My Fighter automatically had a Signature Weapon on hand, so I chose light armor and extra adventuring gear. Much to my liking, the 'adventuring gear' is assumed to have the flinklock, 30ft rope, oil, etc. that you would assume that it would have. Easy-peasy. 
From start to finish, the whole of character creation took about 30-40 mins, even accounting for a player (Shay) who joined us late. 

The characters we came up with were:


  • Naeriel Bladesong, Elvish Fighter. Played by yours truly. She lives in the Parish of Andulan: her homeland now swallowed up by the City of Dis. An elvish duelist, she lives only to find worthy opponents and thus carry on the songs of her ancestors in battle.

  • Emen Graycastle, Human Necromancer. Played by Jim. A suitably creepy character, he lives in the now run-down castle of his father and may be the last survivor of his world. He sees death as merely the continuation of life's journey, and summons the corpse of his now dead girlfriend to aid him when in danger. 




  • Briza Adaragon, Drow Chaneller. Played by Meriam. Another visitor to the mysterious City of Dis. As a Channeler, she serves as a conduit to elemental forces that she doesn't truly control (in this case, the elemental power of ice). As a dark elf, she can see in absolute darkness just as well as in daylight.





  • Jagelio, Human Thief. Played by Shay. He came to Dis when following a 'mark' around a corner: the alleyway somehow led to Dis, and he hasn't been able to figure his way back. Not that he minds very much...he's a pragmatist at heart, and there's always plenty of work to be found in the city. 

Note that Emen and Briza's character classes are from the Grim World supplement, and not the main book. 

The GM established that we were already operating as a group, so we skipped over the whole 'meet cute' adventure that is semi-standard for the genre.

The Bonds feature really helped to reinforce this: notably, Naeriel looked after Jagelio and suspected that Briza wasn't really all that fit for dungeoneering, whereas Emen appreciated Naeriel's propensity to leave fresh corpses behind for him to exploit.


  • Step 2: The Setup
As noted in the earlier post, the GM established that we were operating in the City of Dis as 'Freebooters': the sorts of folks that take dangerous jobs that no normal person would even consider. 

He even provided the following image for what a gathering of Freebooters might look like:
A typical group of adventurers (Freebooters) in the city of Dis.
Half guild, half social-club, the Freebooters are who you go to when you want something done that might involve some wetworks and a little B&E. Just our sort of people!

We were also established as currently living in the Ditchwater Slums (see the map linked above), which is exactly what it says on the tin. Naeriel's home of Andulan lives between the slums and the palace, serving as a vast central park of sorts. 


  • Step 3: The Heist
“So, what do you do?”
 The above phrase is really key to Dungeon World: the GM creates the situation and adjudicates, but the players are meant to drive the action. Which is awesome.

In our game, the GM Gary embraced this idea fully and handled it like a champ:
Gary: You are hired by a temple in Dis to recover an item. Describe the temple, and the item.
Me: Ummm....well it's a temple to a foreign god, unknown to all of us.
Gary: Sure. What god?
Me: Uh...let's say that it's a Temple of the Nameless God. In fact, it is forbidden to speak the name of the god, or even what it looks like. Only the Hierophant of the order is allowed into the inner sanctum where the idol of the god resides.
Gary: OK, cool: I like it. And what item was stolen?
Shay: Maybe it's a book?
Gary: Great: so you are going to recover a stolen book?
Me: But! When we are hired we are warned by the priests to never look at the contents of the book.
Gary: Cool! Describe the priests: what are they like?
Me: Hmm..they serve an unknown and faceless god, right? Maybe they wear masks themselves then...
Gary: What sort of masks?
Me: Black masks that entirely hide their faces. They are unknown, like their god. And hoods as well; so when you gaze at them, all you see are shadows...
Gary: Great, great: I like it!

With this, the GM established that player creativity was a big part of the game. Then he moved on to full traditional GM mode:
Gary: The book was reportedly stolen by a Lich, that lives in an impenetrable dark tower within the city. Legends tell of dark dealings within, and also that the tower is defended by a series of fiendish traps. 
What do you do?
How bad can it be, really?
Since breaking into things and dealing with traps seemed largely the purview of the party thief Jagelio, we deferred to his wisdom in this matter.

Shay (as Jag) decides to come up with a foolproof plan to break into the tower: he rolls the dice for a Discern Realities roll....and gains a total of 6, which counts as a failure.

The GM declares that Jagelio is convinced that the only way in is to dig under the city and create a tunnel into the tower. He is so convinced, in fact, that he convinces the party that this is the only way to achieve their goal, and to share their reward with dwarvish diggers who will make the tunnel.

Now all the players at the table knew that Jag had failed his roll, but we had agreed to go with thief's plan, so that's what we were doing. For his part, Shay role-played this quite well:
Shay: C'mon guys: I've looked at all the angles. This is the only way to do it: I have a good feeling about this!
For over a week, the dwarvish hirelings dig, and dig, and dig some more: with ruthless precision they carve their tunnel into the earth. The dwarves in question are not the ruddy and brusque dwarves of Tolkien's stories: they are straight out of Norse mythology, with pale bluish skin and weird glowing eyes. Only their professionalism and the fact that they are working for our pay gives us some solace that these creatures are not a threat to us.

Finally, they carve their way into an opening into the tower: and with this final break, they conclude their work is done, stopping only to take their pay as they head down the long tunnel and into daylight.

But for our hardy adventurers, this is just the beginning of their task. Steeling themselves for anything, they prepare to go through the newly created breech and into the unknown....
Continued in Part 3!