Backing Project: Dark by Will Hindmarch

My absolute favorite RPG sessions always involve a heavy dose of scoundrels and rogues. Which is why I’m backing “Project: Dark” by Will Hindmarch.

In fact the single most memorable session in my gaming experience started with everyone having committed a crime and were given a chance for freedom – Irv the Mole if you are keeping score at home.

I know that there are those that would just as soon wait until something is complete and released so they don’t assume a financial risk – or they simply don’t want to wait. And for those on the sidelines, I can understand; Personally I have a few Kickstarters that I’ve relegated to the “if it shows up, fine” category.

I have personally met Will on numerous occasions; And played in a few of the games run by him. He is the utmost professional game designer with a solid track record. He truly understands games.

And while I missed my chance at GenCon to play early drafts of the game, those were able to spoke quite highly of the game.

The Kickstarter is already funded, and I can promise my players that come March this will be brought to the table.

Translating Old School Items to Dungeon World

From the Dungeon World core rulebook:

When making your own magic items keep in mind that these items are magical. Simple modifiers, like +1 damage, are the realm of the mundane—magic items should provide more interesting bonuses.

And in principle I believe this is very worthwhile advice. However, there are lots of magic items out there, especially those created for Old School Games under the Open Game License.

This post builds from my previous post concerning Saving Throws or Defying Danger. I actually began this post and had it mostly finished before I started writing the previous post.

Translating from the Old School Items

Dungeon World begins and ends with the fiction. When looking at old school items you should explore how the item interacts with the fiction.

Consider the following old school item:

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Ring of Poison Resistance: The wearer receives a +5 to saving throws vs. poison.

END OPEN GAME CONTENT

In an old school game, a +5 to your save is rather significant but does not guarantee success.

A direct translation could be interpreted as:

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Ring of Poison Resistance: You gain +1 ongoing to defying the dangers of poison.

End OPEN GAME CONTENT

But the above definition assumes a move triggers, which may not be the case.

In Dungeon World poison has the dangerous tag (see below).

It’s easy to get in trouble with it. If you interact with it without proper precautions the GM may freely invoke the consequences of your foolish actions.

The dangerous tag description hints that using this could trigger a move; But the tag doesn’t guarantee that a move triggers. And therein lies a difference between Dungeon World and an old school game.

The old school item builds on the saving throw – a reactive defense mechanism developed to give your character one final attempt to avoid a terrible fate.

Dungeon World’s Redbook (its alpha version) had the following move for Saving Throws, explicitly calling out poison.

Make a Saving Throw (Con)

When you take damage from an enemy of higher level than you or when something inflicts an effect (magic, poison, calamity) upon you, roll+Con. On a 10+, nothing else bad happens. On a 7-9 the GM chooses one. On a 6- the GM chooses two.

  • You drop something valuable
  • You break something mundane
  • You miss something important
  • You lose your footing
  • You lose track of someone or something
  • It’s worse than it seemed—take +monster level damage

Gone is the Saving Throw concept, replaced instead with the more generalized Defy Danger move – its fictional trigger is below:

When you act despite an imminent threat or suffer a calamity, say how you deal with it and roll. If you do it…

  • …by powering through, +Str
  • …by getting out of the way or acting fast, +Dex
  • …by enduring, +Con
  • …with quick thinking, +Int
  • …through mental fortitude, +Wis
  • …using charm and social grace, +Cha

✴On a 10+, you do what you set out to, the threat doesn’t come to bear. ✴On a 7–9, you stumble, hesitate, or flinch: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.

From that fictional trigger a player could rightly narrate that they are attempting to defy the danger of poison by sucking out the poison or toughing it out; They could also reach into their pack to get some antitoxin.

But a Ring of Poison Resistance should provide a reactionary defense.

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Ring of Poison Resistance: When you are exposed to the dangers of poison you can deal with it by relying on the ring. Roll+3 to defy the danger of the poison. Instead of rolling you may permanently drain the ring’s magic to negate the dangers of the poison.

End OPEN GAME CONTENT

If you are interested, you can checkout my Take on Magic Items.

Saving Throws or Defying Danger

This post began as I was working on my Translating Old School Items to Dungeon World post. And while it was published first it was inspired by that post. I would also recommend taking a look at nerdwerd’s Saving Throw = Defy Danger post. It was written prior to my post, but I didn’t know about the post until it was pointed out in the comments.

Thinking about old school character sheets. In particular the mental cue that the Saving Throws give.

  1. Paralyzation, Poison, or Death Magic
  2. Rod, Staff, or Wand
  3. Petrification or Polymorph
  4. Breath Weapon
  5. Spell

These are a litany of the dangers a character might face. And those dangers are very specifically called out on the character sheet sitting in front of a player.

Contrast with Dungeon World. The character sheet doesn’t give any indication of the dangers you will face. It is a collection of things that you can very specifically do.

And throughout the materials facing the players – the moves sheet in particular – there is the Defy Danger move. It describes that characters can defy dangerous things, but doesn’t give much of an inkling of what those dangers might be.

A Few Examples for Contrast

In old school games on both sides of the GM screen there is a clarity regarding when poison and magic take effect; This is how I might describe a spider attack in an old school game.

The spider bites you as it begins spinning a web around you. Take 1d4 damage and make a saving throw versus poison.

The attack describes that in order for the poison to take effect, the character must fail their saving throw. And before the narrative proceeds we need to know the results of the saving throw.

In Dungeon World things are more murky. Below are two sequences that are equally valid.

The spider bites you; take 1d4 damage. You immediately feel the burning sting of the venom as the spider begins to spin a web around you. What do you do?

The spider bites you; take 1d4 damage. Its venom weakens you as the spider begins to spin a web around you. What do you do?

In the former sequence the player is given an opening to respond to the venomous bite. In the latter sequence the character is already suffering from the venom. In both cases the character will likely need to defy danger in an attempt to break free of the webbing.

But does the player know that they could defy the danger of the poison?

Conclusion

I much prefer the Dungeon World sequences – though I would entertain other examples for the old school sequence instead of my straw men. The Dungeon World sequences very obviously begin and end with the fiction. They are inviting the player to respond.
But this comes with a cost as well – the GM must remember the danger of the poison.

In the old school example, the poison is quickly resolved. And perhaps that is its brilliance.
Old school games were originally run for half a dozen or more players. That is a lot of fiction for a GM to juggle.

I shudder at the thought of running a Dungeon World game for half a dozen or more players. It would be too much fiction to hold in my mind; I would need procedures to handle that.

Dungeon World games focus on the fiction. Old school games focus on exploration. And for exploration you really want to know the dangers that are ahead of you.

Random Relationship Graph Builder

As I said earlier in my Random Clergy Generator post, I’ve been kicking around a campaign that involves a monastery (or perhaps more appropriately church). Around this time I read an old blog post at Deeper in the Game regarding 3 tiered Conflict Webs.

This go me thinking that I wanted to have the monastery filled with internal conflict at both a petty level as well as the leadership level. I also wanted the monastery to be in the maelstrom of the external world.

This may also be just in time for the rerelease of the Birthright Campaign Setting PDF.

Graph relationship of major players in the kingdom

A Proposed Kingdom Relationship

Relationships Defined

Within a living and breathing campaign world, consider three categories of relationships:

  1. External leadership
  2. Internal leadership
  3. Petty affairs

External Leadership

The inter-relationship between organizations and/or figures of authority that are in regular contact.

Thieves Guild, Bishop, Vizier, King, Earl, Duke

Internal Leadership

The characters of an organizational structure that are part of the leadership.
What are their motivations and relationship with other internal leaders.

Abbot, Prior, Subprior, Cellarer, and Sacrist

Petty Affairs

The characters of an organization that are part of the day to day function.

Butler, Footman, Scullery Maid, Driver, Stableman

Begin OPEN GAME CONTENT

Establish the Entity’s Attributes

Each entity has three attributes:

  • Influence – how the entity is perceived/interacts beyond their domain.
  • Sovereignty – the entity’s control over their subjects and domain.
  • Means – resources that can be leveraged to action; wealth, military might, spy network, etc.
Rank Influence Sovereignty Means
-4 Pariah, Outcast Fall is eminent Impoverished, insolvent, mutinous
-3 Shunned Leads in name only Deeply indebted, demoralized
-2 Ridiculed Strongly opposed Shaken, heavily taxed, indebted
-1 Distrustedm Disrespected Meager, Over committed
0 Heard Obeyed Bases are covered but nothing more
1 Trusted Respected Some excess capacity
2 Persuasive Revered Excess capacity and capabilities for securing more
3 Finger in every pot Infallible Owed numerous favors, abundant capabilities
4 “Puppetmaster” “God” Incomprehensible

Establish the Entity’s Relations

For any of the above organizational relationship categories, write each of the named entities in a line. It is the author’s recommendation that you put “obviously related” entities immediately adjacent (i.e. King and Royal Vizier).

For each named entity, roll 4dF and lookup the result:

  • Negative – connect the entity to the next entity in the line
  • Zero – connect the entity to the next entity in the line (as above) but also if an entity further down the list has no connections, connect to that entity.
  • Positive – do all that you would for a zero result and if another entity further down the list has no connections, also connect to that entity.

Each connection represents an established relationship between the two entities.

Optional Relationship: Draw a connection from the last entity on the list and the first entity.

Define the Relationship (Optional)

d8 Vice Virtue
1 Lust Chastity
2 Gluttony Temperance
3 Greed Charity
4 Sloth Diligence
5 Wrath Patience
6 Envy Kindness
7 Pride Humility
8 Roll 2 times Roll 2 times

Each established relationship between a character/organization is defined by one or more vices or virtues. Roll 1d8 and lookup the corresponding Vice/Virtue.
For each line roll 4dF and lookup the result:

  • Negative – the relationship is based on the indicated vice.
  • Zero – the relationship is defined by both the vice and virtue.
  • Positive – the relationship is based on the virtue.

It is up to the Gamemaster to interpret the resulting relationship.

End OPEN GAME CONTENT

Torchbearer with the kids

On Monday, bitter cold and snowfall closed both both school and work. So I asked the kids what RPG they wanted to play. Rather quickly they all said Torchbearer (they had played before and it apparently had captured their attention).

We sat down and started creating characters. I again encouraged them to avoid the Elf and Wizard, focusing on the more mundane classes.

Torchbearer’s character creation is a fantastic blend of base class competencies modified by a handful of questions. Choose where you were born; this gives you a skill and a trait. Choose how you get others to do what you want. Maybe in another post I’ll go into more details.

I decided to run Under the House of the Three Squires – the example adventure in the Torchbearer book. Without spoiling the adventure, I’m going to make a conjecture about why they all specifically wanted to play Torchbearer. It is hard!

I’m not referring to the rules, which take some getting used to. But to the style of play that is hard. Very early they got kicked in the face for not asking questions – they charged in assuming that their Fresh condition would save them.

It didn’t. I felt bad for not providing enough guidance and asked if they wanted to start over. They were willing to soldier on, but I was soft and encouraged them to start over.

They did, and immediately they began asking questions. And from my answers good ideas started flowing. And kept flowing – it was infectious. They were still making tests, but managed to avoid a few of the more treacherous tests.

As they were interacting, asking questions, gently prodding, I found myself gaining greater clarity of the environment that they were exploring; The aappropriate twists or complications were right in front of me.

And this is hard because it is different from much of what they have typically played. Many of the games that they’ve played – some of which I’ve run – have very quickly went to the dice. For example:

GM – Debris is strewn…

Player – I roll to Search. I got an 18.

GM – Um.

In Torcbearer it is likely doing their best to avoid rolling the dice. Not only are the odds not overly in their favor, but every roll depletes one of the parties precious resources – time and the march towards a new condition.

In other words, Torchbearer mechanically encourages “Starting with the Fiction.” Which is likely something that makes complete sense to those that started with the earlier editions of the old school. And has been lost in the translation.

Random Clergy Generator

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a campaign that involves a monastery. As I’ve explored the campaign, I figured that I might as well create some potentially useful generators.

This is heavily influenced by Roman Catholic tenets and organizational structures . Much has been drawn from LordsAndLadies.org and Wikipedia.

Duty

What is responsibility of the clergy member?

d20 Duty Description
1 Bishop Spiritual and political head of multiple parishes (e.g. a diocese)
2 Archdeacon A cleric having a defined administrative authority delegated to him by the bishop in the whole or part of the diocese.
3 Deacon Minister to the physical needs of the congregation.
4 Abbot/Abbess Head of the abbey
5 Prior Oversees the internal life of the monastery, responsible for the monastery when the abbot is gone
6 Subprior When the prior and abbot are away, the subprior is responsible
7 Almoner Responsible for distributing alms to the poor
8 Barber Surgeon Responsible for shaving faces, tonsures, and performing light surgery
9 Cellarer Responsible for provisioning the monastery
10 Infirmarian Oversees the infirmary
11 Novice Master Oversees the postulants and novices
12 Lector Entrusted with reading the lessons in church
13 Guest Master Responsible for overseeing any guests
14 Refectorian Responsible for refectory where meals are served
15 Sacrist Responsible for the safe keeping of books, vestiments, vessels, and maintenance of buildings
16 Cantor Leads the church choir
17 Postulant a person that has come to the monastery to take the vows; watched by the Novice Master
18 Novice a person who has completed their postulancy and within the year will take their vows
19 Brother a monk that has taken the vows
20 Father an ordained priest

Timeline

When did they join the clergy?

d8 Age Joining this chapter Background before joining
1 10+d8 Yesterday A foreigner banished from their land
2 10+d10 Last month An orphan taken in at age 1d6-1
3 10+d12 Last year A noble born with a gift of land
4 20+d8 1d6 years ago A free person with an aptitude
5 20+d10 2d6 years ago A serf that fled his liege
6 20+d12 3d6 years ago A soldier forsaking the way of war
7 30+d20 1d4 decades ago An outlaw posing as a free person
8 30+2d20 At age 11 A slave that escaped his master

– If you roll the maximum value, roll the die again and add the new result to the previous result; Repeat if you again roll the maxium value.

Masses

A monk’s daily routine includes numerous religious services.

d8 Mass Description
1 Matins at midnight
2 Lauds at dawn (approximately 3am)
3 Prime approximately 6am
4 Terce approximately 9am
5 Sext approximately noon
6 Nones approximately 3pm
7 Vespers before dark (approximately 6pm)
8 Compline before retiring (approximately 9pm)

Virtue and Vice

Answer the following questions related to the clergy member’s perception of vice and virtue.

  • They lack this virtue?
  • They exemplify this virtue?
  • They loath this vice? They personally hold it as the worst of all vices.
  • They conceal, yet are consumed by, this vice?
d8 Vice Virtue
1 Lust Chastity
2 Gluttony Temperance
3 Greed Charity
4 Sloth Diligence
5 Wrath Patience
6 Envy Kindness
7 Pride Humility
8 Roll 2 times Roll 2 times

Methods and Means

Determine a clergy member’s method and concern.

d6 Method Concern
1 Repenting for the congregation
2 Toiling over the sacred relics
3 Shepherding the sacred text
4 Glorifying the lands
5 Expanding the buildings
6 Depleting the brothers/sisters
7 Protecting the guests
8 Purging the offerings

Observations of Dungeon World at Michiana Board Gamers

What follows are my observations regarding the Dungeon World game that I ran at Michiana Board Gamers. The other post was already ridiculously long, so I’m splitting it up.

Observations

Michiana Board Gamers

What a fantastic facility! An area church has graciously offered space for us to use. The people were very friendly and inviting. Michael, thank you so very much for being a host and ambassador for your church.

If you are in the area, please make sure to check out Michiana Board Gamers.

The Namer

The Namer is an interesting playbook but perhaps served for a longer game. Much of what they do requires a true name…which they can research. So in future one-shots I will make sure the Namer is not amongst the batch.

The Namer also has a fantastic racial move that is perfect in the hands of a player ready to embrace this narrative power:

You were raised on oral folklore and traditions of names and songs which took new life for you when you learned their true origin. Whenever you sing or tell a story to impress, captivate or frighten an audience, take +1 forward against them.

Golden Opportunities

I was trying to hit harder on 6- rolls, and think I did that. But it is still not quite in my nature; I like complications but have a hard time really twisting the knife.

As we were wrapping up Mark noted that I was hitting harder when the players presented a golden opportunity.

Flow of Combat

I’m struggling with the flow of combats. Some of the combats devolve into what feels like hack and slash marathons – lots of 10+ rolls for minimal damage. I’ve been playing these as “okay player keep pressing the initiative…you’ve got free rein.” Should I be making soft moves in between a successful hack and slash?

I asked this question at the Dungeon World Tavern, and there are some great responses. In essence, I’m forgetting to follow-up with soft moves that are my response to the players action. As a GM I need to ask the players “What do you do?”; Also as a GM I need to take the results of each player move and answer the implicit “What do you do?” question that the player ask me.

Splitting the Group

Splitting the group in Dungeon World is rather invigorating…as one group faces a hard question I quickly pan to the other characters and have a quick conversation and end with a hard question…then pinball back to the previous group to hear their answer and determine its resolution.

Playbook Selections and One Shots

I love running Dungeon World one shots with a huge selection of playbooks presented to the players. Once they winnow the playbooks, a story and world takes form – it is a custom creation in which each character is “at home”.

At first with this style of improvisation the world is blurry. We fumble a bit as the questions and answers bring the fiction into focus. I almost always feel that this method results in a session trajectory that is steadily improving.

Moves that Don’t Hit the Table

I’ve noticed in the games I run that players don’t often Discern Realities and very rarely Spout Lore. It could be that I tend to run human-centric games, but perhaps something isn’t quite clicking.

Roses and Thorns

And note to self, adopt Mark Truman’s Roses and Thorns post session wrap-ups. I keep saying this, but rarely give myself time to do this.