Yesterday, I participated in two sessions of Dungeon World. The first session of the day, played over Google Hangouts, was a continuation of the previous Google Hangouts adventure.
The second session of Dungeon World started forty minutes after the first session ended. I was the GM. Where as in the first session I could take more detailed notes, as GM I'm working almost entirely from memory. This session, with 30 minutes of character creation and pizza eating, went from 6pm to 9:30pm without a break.
I normally place my observations at the end of the post. But this is a lengthy blog post – Do you mind the lengthier blog posts? I try to keep them to less than 750 words. And this thing clocks in at 2560 words – So I'll start with my observations.
First and foremost, this was a fantastic game of Dungeon World in which the only prep I did was to transcribe the Dungeon World DM moves. Instead I leaned heavily on the answers to my questions. And when possible I continued to fold the answers into new questions and new facets of the world.
I suspect that if I keep rolling answers into questions, I may end up with a very heavy mess of narrative goo. So I have also made sure to ask leading questions that I can keep on the vine for a bit. And at some point, I will want to close the current chapter.
Second, my wife will tell you I'm not a very good listener, but it is something I'm working hard at improving. Part of listening, at least as I understand it, is asking questions, and I found this really set this first session rolling. The other part is to listen to the persons response without prejudice, without evening beginning to formulate a response.
The session started out slowly. I didn't begin en media res, instead opting to build up via narration some of what the world looked like. While it may seem that the questions I asked dropped away once the game “started”, I was always asking either clarifying and leading questions.
Third, I believe this was a very successful first session. Dungeon World bonds ensure that characters are interwoven. I would love to see other sets of bonds published and made available.
Starting the Session
I began the session by asking lots of questions. In fact, at one point I thought “Maybe I'll just ask questions all night, because hell if I know what to do.” Then I thought are people going to get bored if I don't start doing something? Below is my rough recollection of some, but certainly not all, of the initial questions.
The first question I asked was “Have you worked together as a group before, or is it coincidence that you all know each other?”
It turned out, they were all loosely affiliated, but had not adventured together.
From there, the questions easily snowballed. I had no idea where things were going, but I asked leading questions of the player characters.
“Are there a lot of elves that visit [the border town] Georgetown?” This question followed as a result of the loose affiliation of the 2 elves and 2 humans.
“Where is Skinny Jake trying to arrange shipments from and to?” “From Ramsford – poof we now had another city and a river – to Stevehold, a fortification along another contested border adjacent to the Woods of the World” Given the river, and the delivery via wagons, we knew that Ramsford was likely the closest point to Stevehold by land – so the river dipped south.
“Cyne, why are you in town?” “I'm following Kind Steve. I have seen that he will play an important role in things to come.” “Cyne, what single word would you use to describe your vision, your senses, regarding Kind Steve.” “Fire.” Well I guess things are going to need to burn a little.
“Does Veldrin know what Skinny Jake (PC) once smuggled through elven lands?” This question was a follow-up question based on Skinny Jake's previous declared smuggling activity. Veldrin responded with a non-commital “I have some idea, but only a vague notion.” I pushed harder. “Yeah, Veldrin thinks it was weapons and medicine.”
“Does the Church of Steve change sides mid-battle? No. Mid-war? Yes.”
“Is the Church of Steve the dominant religion? Yes. Are other religions proscribed? No. What are the other religions?” In those questions, the grim nature of this part of the world took form. Battles were common place as were wars. There were bastions of fortified civilization that withstood the warring natures of the priests of Steve.
“What color are a priest of Steve's robes? Yellow…until soaked in blood. To return from battle without stained robes is a shame and dishonor.”
The above questions were asked throughout the game. And slowly the world developed.
The Church of Steve – devoted to bloody conquest and sacrificial rites – became a major component of the campaign world. As we explored a world taking form before our eyes, we realized that the realm was a hyper fragmented region, with what is likely complicated feudal arrangements. Free cities exist throughout the region, but are heavily fortified.
A Meeting in Georgetown
Skinny Jake was meeting with Harold, a caravan driver, and trying to secure caravans for a lucrative shipping arrangement. Not content with his charm Skinny Jake attempted to slip Harold a bit of goldenroot. Both Veldrin and Cyne saw this act, along with a dwarf.
Veldrin hastily ran interference and Harold was able to seal the deal with Harold.
Starting out from the border village of Georgetown, as guards for Harold's 6 wagon caravan, characters undertook a Perilous Journey – after all this was a war ravaged area of the world. Cyne tromping around on his own did not assist, instead was quite content to take animal form. Veldrin scouted, Kind Steve trailblazed, and Skinny Jake managed the supplies.
- Kind Steve knew these paths, explaining of a not too well-known path through the Serpents’ Crest – named for the numerous wending paths.
- Veldrin keen eyed was able to spot a Giant Eagle, feasting on a stray cow; Wisely Veldrin decided not to ambush the majestic creature
- Skinny Jake made sure the supplies were well rationed.
Arriving in Ramsford
They arrived at Ramsford, a fortified city with massive walls; Skinny Jake's player brought Ramsford into play by way of answering one of my questions; And the church of Kay, God(dess?) of Civilization, was dominant.
Ramsford levied a toll against all those entering. And as a priest of Steve, Kind Steve's toll was quintuple the normal toll.
The walls were massive, and I wanted to know why the tavern that they walked into was so crowded, so Cyne responded “Its the Festival of the Culling of the Sheep”
People were packed into the city of Ramsford to participate in numerous mutton eating contests; most of them organized. The premier teams competed in the inns and taverns. Each team of 4 men, 2 women, 1 halfling were competing in butchered hanging weight categories. Further restrictions concerning allowed cutlery and utensils were in force. On the floors were bowls collecting the juices. Ties went to those with the fullest bowl.
Meeting of Mutton Steve
In the corner sat Mutton Steve, dining on a heavily seasoned leg of mutton, his ram's horn helm resting on the table, great sword leaning against the table, and wearing his priestly robes which were ritually prepared by soaking in sheep urine. Skinny Jake and Kind Steve approached; Kind Steve offering a stout beer while Skinny Jake went straight to business successfully negotiating double the fee for delivery.
As this was happening, Veldrin followed Harold to the stables. The stables were a multi-story parking garage – Ramsfod being well fortified and a hub of mercantilism meant that buildings had to go up instead of out. Approaching the stables, Veldrin observed the exchange between the quarter master and Harold.
Discerning Realities Veldrin noticed that the quartermaster had scales around his neck…accidentally revealed as his scarf shifted. Having traveled with Cyne he realized these were likely a shape changers tell.
Harold was able to get a main level parking, explaining to Veldrin that paying 10 coin more per week gave him certain liberties and freedoms to move quickly. More interesting to Veldrin were the goblins and littlings – one-quarter sized goblins – moving about unloading manure and other menial labor. They were part of the ecosystem. A quick Discern Realities and Veldrin learned that the goblins were really in control here.
Into the Kitchen
Back at the tavern, as Kind Steve, Mutton Steve, and Skinny Jake were meeting, Cyne was observing the kitchen. Looking around and Discerning Realities he noted that the cook had prepared the food not with spices but with a similar smelling poison that induced hysterics.
As Skinny Jake was shuffling through the dining area, when a steak knife flew past his face, impaling one of the other contestants. Mayhem erupted, and Skinny Jake tried to flee. But was instead impaled by the sharp end of a sheep bone – one of the eating contestants had escalated to violence.
Back to the Stables
Veldrin was helping Harold unload, attempting to learn more about Harold's business, and the load that Harold was hired by Skinny Jake to deliver. As Veldrin helped, he spotted a small concealed notebook on one of Harold's wagons.
Veldrin also noted that the building was an interesting operation, part warehouse, part stables, with littling holes connecting the rooms. The littlings were only quasi-intelligent but carried out their orders quite well. The purpose of the holes were unknown. But it appeared as though they were all filled with burlap bags.
A Sword is Drawn
And that is when Skinny Jake heard the unsheathing of a great sword behind him. And Skinny Jake had to choose…would he escape the melee and loose his coin purse, or tumble into the, at present, neutral middle of the dining room?
Skinny Jake rolled into the middle of the room and lying prone looked up to see several strange bags mounted by calcified scarab beetles under the tables.
Cyne, standing outside the kitchen, noted that 6 goblin archers had entered the kitchen. In the back was a human, with three scales on his right cheek, another tell of a shape changer. And did I mention the goblins had bows and flaming arrows…because they did.
Cyne howled for help, and Kind Steve charged in, avoiding the growing melee. As he burst through the kitchen door, the goblins let loose and Kind Steve was on fire, along with the kitchen walls and door frame. Kind Steve reciprocated by crushing the skull of one of the goblins.
Cyne burst into the kitchen, shifted into polar bear form and roared a mighty roar scaring off the goblins – I may need a custom move for this. Kind Steve remarked that it sounded as if Bear Steve had arrived.
Mixin a Little Fire
With flaming arrows and what tables likely loaded with explosives, Skinny Jake was all the more concerned to get out. Mutton Steve stood before the door a macabre parody of Gandalf the Grey challenging anyone to pass. Instead, Skinny Jake took the opening up the stairs.
The cacophonous roar of the tavern drew Veldrin's attention, and he took off from the stables to investigate.
With the goblins routed, Cyne returned to human form, and help extinguish Kind Steve. However, the walls were beginning to catch flame – a greasy kitchen is a dangerous place. Cyne burst toward the back door, as one of the jugs of cooking oil caught flame. Kind Steve turned to see where Skinny Jake had gotten to. And realized there was only one way…up.
What had once been a melee of 17 men, 8 women, and 4 halfling was down to Mutton Steve, a halfling, a woman, and two men, each laying claim to their respective heap of slain foes. And as Kind Steve scampered through the room, the five combatants all dove towards each other in a macabre final act of hysterics.
Outside cries of fire erupted and Veldrin pushed to the front of the line. As he pressed his face towards the window, spurts of blood splattered him. Gore was everywhere in that tavern. But Veldrin saw where the other exit likely was.
What Does Harold Have in That Notebook
Back in the warehouse, Veldrin convinced Harold to let him finish up. Veldrin proceeded to uncover the notebook and read the last entry. The notebook didn't disclose what Skinny Steve was having delivered. But the last entry, the one for Ramsford, showed that not only was Harold delivering hay, but he was also delivering several drums of oil.
A Cracked Door and Warded Frame
Upstairs, Skinny Jake saw the doors to 8 rooms. At the far end of the hallway, there was one door cracked open. Approaching cautiously, Skinny Jake discerned that there were etchings that flickered from the lantern light of the hall.
Skinny Jake slowly slinked along the hallway to view as much of the room as possible without crossing the threshold. In the room he saw a bed, wash basin, and on the floor a part of circle made of piles of silver dust. From the floor, which was directly above the kitchen, wisps of smoke rose and the tell tale smell of fire permeated the air.
Drawing his rapier, Skinny Jake was going to open the door without touching it. A brief headache, and Skinny Jake collapsed into darkness.
Out Behind the Burning Kitchen
So he snuck around back and saw the fleeing shadow of something from the back door. Cautiously he approached, but crunched on a pile of oddly scattered chicken bones outside the building. He paused, counted to 10.
The back door opened again. And Veldrin heard sniffing. Veldrin rounded the corner with sword defensively positioned to lock gaze with the ice blue eyes of a wolf. Recognizing the icy blue eyes as Cyne's tell, he lowered his weapon. And both Cyne and Veldrin gave pursuit around the building.
Upstairs Take Two
Ascending the stairs Kind Steve saw the bounce of feet in the doorway at the end of the hall. Skinny Jake had fallen into the room. Kind Steve hastily shouldered Skinny Jake, grabbed his rapier, and set off to exit the building. Descending the stairs. Kind Steve locked eyes with Mutton Steve, the sole survivor of the contest.
Mutton Steve's eyes lit up again, and Kind Steve quickly dropped Skinny Jake and bellowed a prayer of fear. And Mutton Steve's eyes lit up as a fear of the fires consumed him. He quickly fled. Steve, unpleased with this request, revoked Kind Steve's spell.
Kind Steve and Skinny Jake made a quick egress.
Cyne, smelling the hint of goblins having fled between buildings, gave pursuit with Veldrin close behind. They rounded the corner and saw a crowd of people gathering and beginning to form a bucket brigade.
Further in the crowd, they could see evidence of a people begrudgingly parting to let something small through. Wanting to split the crowd quickly, Cyne shifted into a Polar Bear and drew unwelcome attention. The crowd took notice and instead of backing down, mustered the courage and charged.
Veldirn turned to escape the angry mob, and Cyne shifted into a hawk and flew into the air. A few of the towns people threw knives and even a chicken at the hawk. Unable to find the other shape changer, Cyne landed and returned to his companions.
And as they were collecting themselves, Skinny Jake said to run as the tavern exploded in the background…Kaboom!
In many ways this session reminds me of one of my early D&D sessions that I ran in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. That campaign started off with an assassination in an inn, with characters scattered and taking actions separately. Bouncing the camera around.