Apocalypse World: Dark Ages Session Report

A follow-up to my playtest observation.

Stronghold

  • What does the stronghold defend? A harbor and a port
  • Who are its enemies? Raiders by land. Raiders by sea.
  • What are its fortifications? An island position; a palisade outer wall; watch and signal towers; and a well or deep cistern.
  • What does its armory include? Hide coats and leather helmets; Bows and a suplly of arrows; Swords.

Characters

  • Acealon (Court Wizard)
    • You are literate.
    • You have the right to step out of your earthly life.
    • You have the right to throw down demons and lawless spirts.
    • You have the right to win over ghosts.
    • Bold 0, Good +1, Strong -1, Wary 1, Weird 2
    • Head of household; Library
  • Darloon, son of Mote (Wicker-Wise)
    • You have a right to enchant someone or something.
    • You have the right to be overcome by an oracular vision.
    • You have the right to speak wisdom in counsel.
    • When you whisper to ghosts you have the right to win them over.
    • Bold 0, Good +1, Strong -1, Wary +1, Weird +2
  • Kadlosch (Blacksmith)
    • You have the right to blood recompense when you are wronged.
    • You are a free landowner.
    • When you rally warriors from among your peers, you have the right to roll Strong.
    • You have the right to slay whom you must for the protection of all.
    • Bold +1, Good 0, Strong +2, Wary +1, Weird -1
    • Head of household; New wealth, armory, vassals, cattle
  • Aezar (Peasant Beauty)
    • When you appear on the battlefield, you are breathtaking and fell.
    • When you confront someone, you are beautiful, poised, and hard as steel.
    • You are exhilerating, intoxicating, when you choose to be.
    • You are radiant and stunning.
    • Bold +2, Good +1, Strong +1, Wary 0, Weird -1

People

  • Norse
    • Bound by the boats, the sea, and the gold
    • Look like: Wiry and tawny brown
    • Known for: Physical prowess, archers, sorcery, superb metalwork, far reaching trade routes
    • Rites 0, War 1, Wealth 1
    • Souls 70, Households 50, Warriors 20
  • Russian
    • They are subjects of the same crown
    • Look like: Hulking, milk white
    • Known for: Devotion to law, patience in suffering, brutal raids, loyalty, marvelous feast
    • Rites 1, War 1, Wealth 0
    • Souls 300, Households 40, Warriors 40
  • Kelds (Baltic)
    • They worship the same god
    • Look like: Small and peach pink skin
    • Known for: Ruthlessness, loyalty, vigilance against sorcery, skill at arms, elaborate cosmology, garish fashions
    • Rites 1, War 2, Wealth -1
    • Souls 30, Households 4, Warriors 8

The Session

Opening Moves

  • Prepare for What’s Coming (Blacksmith)
    • With a new gatehouse
    • With a bounty of food
  • Soldiering (Peasant Beauty)
    • You begin the season unhurt
    • You are owed pay
    • You are still bound to fight
  • Rites & Celebration (Wicker-Wise)
    • Celebrating Old Ways; A blood sacrifice
  • Ask for their Hospitality (Court Wizard)
    • He was given archers to help find the Peasant Beauty’s company
    • Aezar owed Acelone money; Aezar’s ancestors owed money to Acelone, and Aezar kept with tradition.

Session

  • An omen in the fisheries. A black fish being eaten by a white fish being eaten by a black fish.
  • Acelon was going to find Aezar, to call in the debt owed him.
    • Ingrid, the castellan, spared 10 archers to find Ingulf’s company, with whom Acelon was soldiering.
  • Acelon wanted to step out of his earthly life to find Aezar. A botched roll, and he found himself submerged deep underwater. Lanterns bobbing. A maggoty corpse of Ingulf, leader of Aezar’s company, approaching.
  • Acelon threw down the demon, demanding his name – Mannon – and to be left in peace. Acelon awoke, in bed, drenched.
  • Kadlosch was going to undertake a Great Labor by Crafting fine quality arrows for the archers.
    • Assistance was given by way of consulting the spirits
    • Exhausted, Kardlosch nearly broke as he realized that “These apprentices are no better than when I got here.”
  • Acelon Lept into Action (Heading out to find Aezar)
    • Acelon found Aezar but suffered minor scrapes as the Kelds harried him and his company.
  • Aezar, through presence and bravado, was able to break the Kelds and able to make a hasty retreat.
  • In the woods Aezar, Acelon, and the companies meet.
  • Leap into Action (Returning Home)
    • Acelon easily covered the distance to get back to the village, inspiring the company to follow, startling and scattering the raiding kelds.
    • Aezar attempting to keep up, ruins his leather armor and helmet.
  • Raiders on the sea, the watchtowers spotted.
  • Kadlosch and Darloon seeing doom on the horizon, mustered warriors and set about preparing defenses.
  • Batle was eminent, but would it be possible to avoid?Kadlosch’s player grabbed the dice to Avoid Battle.
    • They are raiding for food. The Russians were famished; Kadlosch might be able to convince them to give up their raid if the bounty of food were given.
  • Kadlosch made the offer. And Boris accepted.
  • Darloon consulted the spirits of fallen crewmates of Boris. He won them over to haunt Boris.
  • Aezar called out Boris, the leader of the raiders to join in single combat.
    • Boris had a spear, shield, and hide armor: 4 Harm, 2 Armor
    • Aezar had a knife: 2 Harm, 0 Armor
    • Boris had 1 point to spend choosing between Attack, Defend, Position. Aezar had 3.
    • Boris chose 1 for Harm; Aezar chose 2 for Position and 1 for Defend.

Aezar in a fit of defiance, took a spear to the side, but instead of withdrawing, pressed forward to disarm Boris and bring knife to his throat. Aezar suffered 5 harm, but still drew breath.

With a clear abundance of food, the Russians were willing to relocate their families to this blessed land of abundance.

In haste Kadlosch prepared an enchantment to heal Aezar – Among the other sacrifices, Boris was made the blood sacrifice.

End of Season

  • Aezar spent the remainder of the season recovering
  • Acelon spent the remainder of the season recovering
  • Kadlosch spent time with his people preparing for what’s coming.
    • A bounty of food.
    • Added stone and timber longhouses.
  • Darloon spent time with his people preparing for what’s coming.
    • Added an encircling ditch.

Apocalypse World: Dark Ages Playtest and Observations

This past Saturday at Better World Book’s monthly game day, I ran a playtest session of Vincent Baker‘s Apocalypse World: Dark Ages. There were four other players. We spent about an hour creating the stronghold, people, and characters. Then another two and a half hours “in character”.

The process of crafting the stronghold, people, and characters gave immediate shape to the characters’ environment. As this is a game about strongholds, peoples, and war companies, the game world crafting process is better than any Quickstart Guide.

The game started bumpy; I wasn’t asking my usual questions to grow the world. I fumbled a bit. I went quick to the dice for guidance. This helped me get my feet. I’m also working on a session write up.

Observations

  1. There is a lot of information to juggle
  2. This is my kind of game
  3. Playtest notes

Juggling Information

There are a lot of “nouns” to coordinate in Apocalypse World: Dark Ages:

  • Strongholds
  • Peoples
  • Companies
  • Notables
  • Characters

There are a lot of “verbs” to process of Apocalypse World: Dark Ages:

  • Basic moves
  • Battle moves
  • Season moves
  • People moves
  • Enchantments

I found it challenging to coordinate so many sheets of paper. I was not prepared.

This is My Kind of Game

My favorite long running campaign was a 2nd edition D&D Birthright game. The campaign was a web of individual adventures and political machinations. Character level actions impacted the campaign; And likewise political actions impacted the individual adventures.

With basic moves, the characters have power to ask for more information or take action. Characters can bide their time, assessing things, asking how to affect change. Or they can leap into action to take the initiative.

Layer on the battle moves – of which we didn’t explore. The characters can either take control of something larger than themselves or be part of the scrum.

Last, the season moves provide a mechanism for advancing the campaign calendar. It is a powerful tool at the disposal of the Master of Ceremonies. A scene can be cut short. Brought to a close.

In other words, Apocalypse World: Dark Ages is a game ripe for campaign play.

Playtest Notes

Some of the players at the table wanted more information about wealth. Were they rich? Or poor? How poor? Was there a middle ground? As wealth impacts starting equipment, this was important for some of the players.

We were hesitant to dive into the mass combat rules; The closest we got was a player grabbing the dice to Avoid the Battle. It was a great moment as the player leaned on the move and in essence asked “I don’t think I want to fight for this, what can I do to avoid this battle?” My response was catered to campaign play and not the single session playtest at hand.

There were a few points in which, as a GM, I was fishing for moves that were applicable; I wanted to go to the dice because I wasn’t ready to “Say yes.” Things were at stake. I wasn’t as familiar with the basic moves; Things didn’t flow as smooth as they could.

 

 

 

Wondering About Adventure Presentation Format

I like the presentation format of late 3E and 4E D&D adventures; One encounter per two page spread. The information for that encounter is self-contained.

What I did not like was that all of these 2 page encounters that I read and saw were for a combat set piece. There were

  • Large monster blocks (three monster types would chew up a large section of a page),
  • A half-page map of a single location with unique terrain
  • A traps section
  • Blah blah blah not very memorable

But the format worked for the medium. Two pages is the limit without page flipping (or printing fold out pages). I have all of the basic information I need to run that encounter.

However I have no sense of how that encounter relates with other encounters and pieces of the adventure. The camera is always zoomed in on the action sequence and fails to pull back for a scenic panoramic image of where everything is happening.

Does anyone have an example for how this might be done zoomed out one level. A region of the adventure with the 2 pages conveying connectedness of the parts of that region; ie relationship graphs, maps, stat blocks, descriptions, etc. Then that format repeated a few times in the same adventure?

I consider myself to have a solid memory and ability to juggle numerous concepts but having run a handful of adventures “by the book” I find it frustrating.

Most adventures, as written, seem to require reading through the entire adventure. Then holding that in memory as I reference the adventure at the table during play. It is that reference during play that I’m looking to optimize.

Hyperlinks are helpful but distracting in the moment; Clicking and jumping to another section means that I must parse the new information. I want a quick scannable 2 pages.

Zzarchov Kowolski‘s Scenic Dunnsmouth helps mitigate these challenges by encoding adventure preparation with procedures for generating the village. I can see this exercise helping me remember more about the adventure so I can focus on running it without distraction.

The One Page Dungeon contest is an exemplar in conveying information as well. I would appreciate references to specific adventures submitted to various One Page Dungeon.

Dragonknights – Session #1

Tonight was a playtest run of Dragonknights, a game in the works by Travis Scott.

A dragon and doll having tea.

Coathios and Ilfwan having tea. Courtesy of Mark Daniels

The Player Characters

Coathios

  • Species: Lustrous Nightfang
  • Temperment: Obsessively Entranced
  • Hoard: Porcelain Dolls (“Ilfwan” an obsidian-headed doll)
  • Wingmate: Skollis is soooo pretty
  • Bond: With the right hammer any dream is possible

Domnus Oric (Smith)

  • High Concept: Bigger & Better
  • Trouble: I Must Touch Everything
  • Mentor: Many hands make light work
  • Role: Hey, its just money
  • Bond: With the right hammer any dream is possible

Skollis

  • Species: Brazen Bolter
  • Temperment: Opportunistic Hotshot
  • Hoard: Arms & Armor from beyond Indgard
  • Wingmate: Coathios takes care of the boring stuff
  • Bond: We make this look good

Domnus Grimaer (Magistrate)

  • High Concept: Glory defined by someone else’s vision
  • Trouble: Too many balls in the air
  • Mentor: The finer points of diplomacy diplomacy ends at a dragon’s snout.
  • Role: Puppet Master
  • Bond: We make this look good

The World

Abject Dangers > Human Perils > Blackguards & Skullduggery > True Rule

Everyone knows that Steward Oldfa is the true power in the domain. She whispers in the ears of the rules, pulls the strings of the local Trade Leagues, and even has a few Magistrates she can rely on to get things done or covered up. Steward Oldfa came to power through financial dominance over other stewards, in particular by placing tremendous pressure on Magistrate Ardolf the Angry.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities & Endeavors > Costs & Bargains

Every traveler takes one of three major trade roads in your domain.

  • The Burning Pass is known for its scalding winds.
  • The Gentle Road is known for its bandits.
  • The Merchant’s Trail is known for its kudzu-like carnivorous grass.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities > Costs & Bargains

The confluence of several major trade routes falls at the outskirts of your domain. The beloved Ogre’s Head Ale is in great supply, and the contraband Root Death (made from yolk of Venomous Whisper Drake eggs) is put up with by the good fold of the domain.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities & Endeavors > Who Would Rule?

The dominant faction in the local Stewards Council has been ousted, and the people couldn’t be happier! Steward Parduelf has been given the new title of Speaker. He is speaks of progress but is an insidious demagogue. His first major change was to remove the regulations regarding Root Death usage.

Outrageous Fortunes > What Luck > Strange Blessings

What luck! Vast plains support a huge quantity of cattle. Goodman Wufric makes sure that Fort Hope gets its share, though he is cross with Fort Hope because they snubbed Magistrate Ardolf the Angry’s diplomatic envoy.

Established Cast

  • Steward Olfda – the power behind it all.
  • Magistrate Adrolf the Angry – ousted from power.
  • Steward Pardeulf – an insidious demagogue, and puppet of Steward Olfda.
  • Smith Wufric – provides cattle for Fort Hope.
  • Scholar Parewan – Bandit leader, gave Domnus Oric the gift of a letter of introduction to the Melted Library. Domnus Oric reverse engineered a safe for him. Domnus Grimaer orchestrated the safe of Magistrate Ardolf falling into the hands of Parewan. Recently branded a bandit.
  • Domna Bowid, Steward – almond skin, scar from ear to collar, Steward of Fort Hope; Low Eminence, High Stewardship
  • Fraebog (Frilled Mountain King) – Domna Bowid’s bonded dragon, High Eminence
  • Domnus Angwyn, Warrior – A dragon bonded warrior of Fort Hope.
  • Smith Pulfric – Helped Oric craft the masonry shelves for Coathios’s lair
  • The Land of Vos – Blades are forged in the blood of the fallen, in a way creating a family tree. This blade begat this blade.

Campaign Aspects

  • The Glorious Order of the Knights Dragonbonded
  • Unheard Voices
  • Political Unrest

Scenes

Taking a cue from Travis’s GenCon game, I gave each bonded pair a moment in each of the dragon’s lairs. We are also pressed for time, having about 2 1/2 hours to play.

Coathios has a small table set for tea. He is enjoying tea with Ilfwan his prized porcelain doll. Oric enters through the fine crafted door. The lair is shelves of lesser dolls each facing the large soft bed on which Coathios rests.

Skollis has his lair arranged such that morning sun shines in. The polished arms and armor reflects and magnifies the morning sun.

Bowid has asked Oric and Grimaer to prepare their dragons for flight. It turns out that Bandit Parewan has stolen a book that will prove Magistrate Ardolf‘s treason. But they must act in haste for Magistrate Ardolf will be leaving the lands in 6 days time. And this capture should happen within Fort Hope’s domain!

Reconaissance

They take flight to gather information from the city of Iyravandron.

  • Domnus Oric reaches out to Smith Pulfric learning the general whereabouts of Parewan (Contacts, Create an Advantage Obstacle 4, Success).
  • Domnus Grimaer is out talking with the crowds attempting to drum up anger over Parewan. (Rapport via Stunt, Overcome Obstacle 5, Failure choosing Success with Great Cost.) The crowds agree with Domnus Grimaer that justice must be served to Parewan, but turn and say it is the Magistrates who cause trouble. “We don’t need the Magistrates! They bring nothing but trouble!”
  • Coathios goes hunting to find the largest cattle from the fields. He wants to make sure that Skollis is well fed and rested for the upcoming hunt. The cattle are theirs to eat. (Notice, Create an Advantage Obstacle 4, Success)

The Hunt

Two days have passed, but Skollis is confident in getting the scent. After two days of heavy flight, I compelled Coathios’ delicate Lustrous Nightfang frame to drive him and his rider to ground. Coathios accepted the the compel. (Note: in hindsight, reading through the Lustrous Nightfang is not frail and easy to tire.)

Skollis and Grimaer continued on. In flight I called for a Notice check on Skollis and Grimaer, though encouraged a bit of a retroactive Create an Aspect.

  • Grimaer encourage Grimaer to keep the sun at their backs (Lore, Create an Advantage, Obstacle 3, Success with Style).
  • Skollis notices a single ballista and three men (Notice, Overcome, Obstacle 3, Success). There are also grazing sheep nearby, not a distraction for this well-fed and rested brazen bolter.
  • Skollis and Grimaer remain unnoticed proceed to fly around to gain an ambush (Stealth, Overcome, Obstacle 4, Success).
  • A quick ambush ensues. Skollis destroys a ballista, kills a human, injures a second, and captures a third.

A gentle interrogation proceeds, with words of honor exchanged, and the captive released. Parewan is in fact in a cave nearby with 20 men.

The Strike

While Coathios and Oric were waiting, Oric crafted some leather wing enhancements (Craft, Create an Advantage, Obstacle 3, Success with Style) to help.

They agreed to wait until an hour or so before dawn to strike Parewan. So Coathios and Oric took to the air and scouted high in the night sky. They were real quiet (Stealth, Overcome, Obstacle 3, Success with Style) and were waiting.

Coathios’s player opted to spend a Fate point to have Parewan step out to relieve himself. Sounded great by me. Coathios struck fast subduing and dragging off Parewan.

The Deal

Back at their camp Coathios, Oric, Skollis, and Grimaer began bargaining with Parewan. Grimaer, on his honor, promised that if Parewan surrendered himself and the book (a new book written in ancient Indarin) that all of Parewan’s men would be free to disperse. Parewan accepted the terms.

They flew back to the camp where Parewan explained the situation. One by one he said farewall to each man and woman by name, also naming their spouses and children.

Wrap Up

We closed the session with a mission accomplished. In game, four days have passed since Bowid gave the assignment.

It has been a long time since I ran a Fate game, but I was willing to fake an awful lot of things. There are a few things I need to lookup.

Observations

The game that I ran felt as though it belonged in the world of the previous games of Dragonknight I’ve played. In part this is because I’ve had the privilege to play four sessions with the creator of the game. But the richness of the setting generator helps fold the common themes back in upon themselves.

And sweet heavens do I love the detail of honor. I made sure to emphasize that the absence of the empathy skill and the value of honor mean that when you say “On my honor” people will believe you. It is a big thing.

There are too many nuances of the setting for me to have “digested” and gotten right. Conveying the spirit of the campaign world is a challenge. I did not put the “So you’re a Magistrate” paper in front of the magistrate player, so there me be a deviation from canon, but I feel like we have enough moving parts to set things in motion.

I have more thoughts but the hour draws late.

Thulian Echoes by Zzarchov Kowolski

Thulian Echoes by Zzarchov Kowolski

Thulian Echoes by Zzarchov Kowolski

Disclaimer: I solicited Lamentations of the Flame Princess for a free copy of the Thulian Echoes PDF with the intent of writing up a review.

From RPGNow’s description:

Thulian Echoes is two adventures in one! In the first phase, players take the role of pregen characters exploring the dungeon long ago… their actions recorded, so that the players’ actual characters can then follow in the footsteps of the previous characters and gain all the riches and magical secrets to be found!

Of my previous three reviews…

…two were for adventures by Zzarchov Kowolski. This review makes the count three out of four.

I will now do my best to avoid spoilers. Instead focusing on what I find fascinating about this adventure.

Zzarchov is crafting adventures that are more than backstory, set encounters, and random encounters. In Scennic Dunnsmouth, Zzarchov wrote procedures to transfer the knowledge components of the adventure framework to the GM.

In Thulian Echoes, Zzarchov focuses on the knowledge transfer of in-game information to the characters by way of the players playing different characters. From the introduction

…the journal of another band of adventures from over a thousand years ago who went to explore a location based adventure. The players are then handed a batch of pre-generated characters and get to play through the events in the journal.

Brilliant! Instead of spending time crafting numerous journal entries with hints and fluff, Zzarchov embraces the “show don’t tell” adage.

The trigger is when the characters study the journal. Not when they commit to the adventure. Yes, it is a bait and switch.

Rehearsal

The first pass through the adventure is brutal. Disposable characters will die. And that is the purpose. However Thulian Echoes is not without sympathy.

Zzarchov recommends, for the first pass through, to provide a luck pool for the players. When a pre-generated character dies, the player can spend from the luck pool to avoid death. When the luck pool runs out…the journal ends.

This mechanism facilitates players paying attention and participating during practice. The mechanism is not used for the “real” run of the adventure. Players have hirelings and henchman to replace a deceased character.

While the players are exploring the adventure site, the GM is taking notes. Both action and inaction will impact the future state of the adventure site. And there is interplay with the alterations.

Once More with Feeling

Once the rehearsal draws to a close, the GM has a bit of work to do. There is a bit of dice rolling and review of the various impacts. It is best to do in between sessions, but could be wrapped up in 20 minutes.

The stage is then rebuilt.

For the second time around with the players’ actual characters, things have changed. A millennium has passed. The players can now witness any potential butterfly effect.

Other Curiosities

Competitiveness

The first pass of the adventure is challenging. But nothing about the adventure forces the players to send their real characters through it. Through social engineering – attempting to succeed after previous failure – most players that I know would attempt to do it again.

The Journey

There is an adventure segment that provides a procedure for dealing with extensive wilderness travel. In doing so Thulian Echoes avoids detailing an extensive set of wilderness encounters.

It is instead there is a distance tracking mechanism and a table for random encounters. The random table has the same structure as The Gnomes of Levnec random table:

  • Roll a d8, d6, d4
  • Consult each entry
  • On doubles, triples, or max value there is a kicker

These tables encode enough information to make the wilderness travel interesting without chewing up too much time.

The Map

Jason Thompson created a gorgeous walkthrough isomorphic map for Thulian Echoes. Jason also drew the walkthrough maps of “Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth”, “Slave Pits of the Undercity”, and the “Isle of Dread”.

Summary

I found the adventure inspiring and interesting. I both want to run the adventure and take the procedures and work on my own. So for my purposes, Thulian Echoes is a resounding “must have”.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

Buy Thulian Echoes if you:

  • Want an example of unique adventure construction
  • Want a dangerous dungeon delve
  • Are looking for your characters to explore a remote island
  • Want an adventure you can run more than once – twice in fact!
  • Think your players would like a second crack at something

Do not buy Thulian Echoes if you:

  • Are looking for an urban adventure
  • Are not willing to yank your player’s chains
  • Know your players won’t be on board for playing different characters
  • Don’t want to deal with timey wimey things

Why I am a Tabletop RPG Cheerleader

This evening and yesterday evening, I spent quite a bit of time preparing an informational website to help GenCon attendees engage with Games on Demand.

At this point, there is more work to do. Most of work is in other peoples hands.

I still have to write some procedures. And complete a few technical chores (eg Cross-referencing games and times). So of course I’m writing this blog post.

I do all of this because I am passionate about gaming.

Gaming has strengthened and enriched many of my friendships and created an opening for many more.

Tabletop gaming is a powerful social activity with a dose of mental calisthenics. Powerful in that I am sitting around a table interacting with other people in a shared imagined space. Returning to the land of make-believe, where as I child I would delve. It is a place of learning, exploration, and creativity.

I can both game and metagame because I am fortunate. My resources are abundant:

  • Spare time
  • Education
  • Adequate Income

I dwell in the upper echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy and relative to the world, the upper echelons of income and wealth.

So I do what I can to help ease the barriers of other people participating in this grand hobby of mine. Which has meant that I have had the privilege of interacting with a lot of people.

And I do my best to interact with each person as a unique individual. For the most part the people have been more similar than different – See: Not all that diverse.

So I am wondering how I can step beyond being a cheerleader to being an evangelist – To help show lots of different people why tabletop RPGs are awesome. To bring them into the larger community and help them find their group.

I want to increase diversity in tabletop gaming. People with baggage, privileges, and challenges so different from mine. I want creations in the larger gaming community that make me smile, think, empathize, and squirm.

I don’t need the larger gaming community to be comfortable nor echoing through a like-minded room. Because in this diversity, I can grow and see what this grand hobby of mine can do for me.

Dangerous Space Jail by Phil Vecchione

On Google+, Phil Vecchione was asking for people to review his Dungeon World adventure Dangerous Space Jail. I jumped.

I love Phil’s Never Unprepared from Engine Publishing. It’s a guide for getting things done, with a focus on bringing awesome adventures to your gaming table.

Encoded Design’s tagline is “Weaponizing Games for Busy GMs.” It is important to keep in mind that this adventure is for Busy GMs.

Preamble

Dangerous Space Jail devotes five pages to the preamble.

One page for an introduction to Encoded Design‘s first publication as well as how the adventure came about.

Two pages of adventure background. Astral prison for ancient foes.

Two pages explaining how to use this adventure. There is good advice, especially those new to running role-playing games.

Adventure

There are several prescribed scenes in this adventure with the following visually scannable structure:

  • Scene Name – for reference and flavor
  • Purpose – a quick explanation of the scene
  • Location – where are things happening
  • Opposition – who/what is opposing the PCs
  • Opening – Setting up the scene
  • Body – Interacting with the scene
  • Closing – Wrapping things up

This structure is fantastic. The Scene Name, Purpose, Location, and Opposition are a quick list. Easy to reference and get your bearings.

The Opening, Body, and Closing contain the bulk of the scene information.

The Opening conveys to the GM what once may have been the read aloud text. There is plenty of information, and a GM would do well to paraphrase this information.

The Body is how the scene should be run. What happens as the characters interact with the environment. Throughout the body:

  • Tactics of the support and opposition.
  • Additional hard moves for the GM to use against the player characters.
  • Callout text of the NPCs (with an Actor/Actress Shortcut).
  • Callout text for additional information – a cue for a paladin to take a vow, a bit of lore, guidance for if they go off the rails.
  • Custom Moves for features of the scene

The Closing provides additional information that can be found in the scene after the conflict has died down.

On Custom Moves and Their Ilk

Dungeon World and its kin, are all about moves. I find the custom moves and defy danger advice of Dangerous Space Jail is weak or not as precise as it could be.

Below is one example.

When a character enters the Dimensional Anchor room or when someone disturbs the fabric of reality, Roll + Int. On a 10+, Enter the room with no issue; 7-9 choose one [from the list]; 6- choose two [from the list]

  • Fall out of sync with the room: -1 ongoing to all actions until leaving the room.
  • Placed in harm’s way: transport near one of the monsters.
  • Separated from your gear: pick one item you are carrying (weapon, shield, backpack, etc.) and it appears across the room from you.
  • Release another Astral Tendril.

The move is unclear, who is choosing? That could be tidied up by saying “when you enter” instead of “when a character enters.”

I am not enamored with a -1 ongoing to all actions. That is a lot of failure stacking up. Maybe give the GM one hold to pick something else from the list while in the room.

I also don’t like that 6- gives choices to the player. Let the list tell the GM of possible responses and give an “Additional Hard Move” advice for the room.

There is also a section in which Dangerous Space Jail gives advice for adjudicating a Defy Danger roll.

  • Unbalanced: the rocks are unstable. (-2 going forward for their next action)
  • Just short: catch the ledge. (d6 damage from a nearby Ver’sha as they hang)
  • Forced back: make a second Defy Danger roll
  • Rain of gravel: get pelted by thrown rocks. (b[2d6])

A -2 penalty is huge…and boring. The damage is reasonable, especially since an adversary is now nearby.

But I take umbrage with the “Forced back” option. I find this uninspiring as it does nothing to advance the state of the game.

How about: “You catch the ledge with one hand while your other hand holds your pack. You are hanging there…what do you do?”

The Ending

Dangerous Space Jail provides an optional director’s cut ending to resolve – because there is just a bit more going on. Its a nice touch.

The epilogue provides guidance for what happens if the characters succeed or fail at their task. Again helpful advice for the GM.

Adventure Mechanics

There are four adventure mechanics in play:

  • The Countdown Timer – rules for the race against the clock
  • Moving Through the Fortress – a custom move to reflect the nature of the jail
  • Variable Resistance – Based on the time, opposition will be greater
  • New Creatures – All adventures have some adversary

The Countdown Timer is the in-game incarnation of “Show signs of an approaching threat.” And the Variable Resistance is how the timer impacts the characters throughout the adventure.

The custom move for Moving Through the Fortress doesn’t do much for me. It’s a bit too scattered for my tastes. Is its focus to chew up resources? Time? And again, if it is a PC facing move, writing it up as “When you…” helps clarify who decides things.

The new creatures are good. They encapsulate a few “race against time” concepts. Some moves could be more precise; As written the monster move could eliminate a character. But that is one of the challenges of Dungeon World; There is precision of some things and then a lot of room for interpretation in the moves.

Hacking the Adventure

This section addresses several concerns, namely the railroad. Phil clearly states that this is designed and written for busy GMs.

Phil does a great job of calling attention to the various dials he has put in this race against the clock adventure. He gives some advice on how to adjust those dials.

Handouts and Cartography

There is a countdown timer handout for the PCs. Also a nice external picture to give shape to the adventure.

The cartography is minimal but helps give mental form to the adventure location.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

Buy Dangerous Space Jail if you:

  • Are looking to kick off a planar adventure
  • Are looking for an adventure that is easy to use as a one-shot
  • Are interested in a fully baked adventure
  • Would like in-depth guidance on running an adventure
  • Want a race against the clock adventure

Do not buy Dangerous Space Jail if you:

  • Are a Dungeon World purist that requires crisp player moves
  • Aren’t interested in planar antics
  • Can’t handle working with a railroad adventure
  • Want lots of blank spaces in your adventure
  • Prefer adventures with ample social interactions

Editorializing

Having just read and reviewed The Gnomes of Levnec, I’ll draw this comparison:

Dangerous Space Jail appears to have its procedural ancestry from late era D&D 3.5 and D&D 4E adventures: Exploration through combat.

Whereas The Gnomes of Levnec feels much more Old School meets Lamentations of the Flame Princess. You explore a region where action unfolds as the players interact and the GM adjudicates responses.