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.

Dungeon World at Michiana Board Gamers

And once again, Dungeon World provided the ingredients for a fantastic one-shot experience. I split the session observations into a separate blog post.

For me, the secret is in letting the players pick from the plethora of playbooks and letting those interactions roll around. In particular it is helpful to have playbooks that hint at things far larger than the characters.

Saturday afternoon, I attended my first BoardGamers of Michiana – though it was a prearranged meeting place for playing Dungeon World. I did also manage to squeeze in a game of Ninjato and a few short games.

As we assembled the players began selecting their playbooks:

Preamble

We established a monotheistic region dedicated to Sola. The Knight Templars of Sola devotion is to the purging and purifying light – ready with the thumbscrews and pyres. And there was Shou, a bearer of a piece of Sola; A calming and soothing voice. Hawk knew the true name of Sola. Vess leveraged her fire magic to blend in amongst the torches and zealotry.

Brother Sam, upon torture had confessed that the Monastery of the Setting Sun had fallen to heretical ways. And Gavin was going to lead the inquisition.

Enroute

As the characters embark traveling through the forest, they encounter a burned villages, a destroyed shrine to Gaea with the charred remains of a man

As they draw closer to the mountains, they round a hill and stumble upon six guards on foot (spears and gambeson armor) and a wagon driven by a monk.

A brief exchange, and Gavin orders all of them to stand down; The guards, realizing Gavin is both the law and their superior, flee.  The monk attempts to drive the wagon through the characters. The monk quickly subdued and his wagon brought under control.

To help prepare the monk for Gavin’s inquisition, Vess performs a creepy blood magic ceremony…plucking a worm from an apple, slicing open her wrist to cut out a small vein, mixing the two in a golden bowl, then anointing the monk with this bloody admixture. How’s that for +1 forward on an Inquisition!

Gavin attempting to draw a confession from the monk, instead angers Sola. Sola strikes him deaf. This does not stop Gavin from stringing the monk up and burning him as a heretic.

Making Camp

Deciding to rest and recover, Grovo cooks up a fine meal, restoring Gavin’s hearing. Were this a long term campaign I probably would’ve required atonement for Gavin to regain his hearing.

That evening, as Grovo is grooming his pony – also named Gavin – he see’s the glint of spears. Waking Gavin, the templar, with only a moments notice before the guards assault the camp. A frenzied battle ensues as.

Vess rushing to the aid, draws a deep breath and exhales a noxious cloud of death that engulfs 4 of the 6 assailants as well as Gavin and Shou. From Hawk and Grovo’s perspective, the cloud takes the form of a horned face.

To frighten his adversaries, Hawk explains that this was Helaxis of the 7th Pit, a fallen battle cleric of the Sola consumed by the breath of demons. He now gets +1 forward against the assailants.

Grovo, attempting to distract one of the assailants instead draws attention to himself…his leg is pinned…Gavin is surround and being worn down. Hawk attempts to draw the power of Sola by using its True Name, but Sola is fickle and retreats.

On her broomstick Vess flies through the melee pulling Gavin into the air. Gavin drops and crushes one of his opponents but destroys his shield As Vess turns to assess the situation, she belches forth Helaxis and a battle in the sky ensues. Something was waiting for her.

The battle on the ground draws to a close as Vess tussles with Helaxis…Grovo manages to distract Helaxis just long enough for Vess to grab a potion and shatter it, bath both her and Helaxis in acid. Helaxis dissipates but fills Vess’s head with an infernal chanting. She drew unwanted attention to herself.

Gavin commands the surrender of one of the last standing of the guards, and he drops his spear. They learn that there are only two guards remaining at the monastery, as well as 12 monks, the prior, and Symbol the witch.

At the Monastery

Grovo, ever cheerful and friendly, grabs a bag of apples and approaches the monastery. The guards, seeing Grovo’s friendly face, let him in and agree to send four monks to help him with his wagon.

An ambush is successfully sprung; being short on time, I hand-wave any kind of conflict and the characters quickly don the disguise of monks.

They return, and the guise holds up under a cursory inspection from the guard on the tower. Long enough for Shou to demand and receive entrance into the bailey. Grovo knows the peace won’t last long, so he sneaks up to the guard on the ground and undoes his scabbard.

It just about then that the guards realize Gavin is a little large for a monk. Gavin strikes quick, dispatching the guard on the ground. The guard on the bell tower sounds the alarm as Shou peppers him with arrows of light. Only as the bell rings does the chanting in Vess’ head subside.

The monks come out of the kitchen, dormitory, and chapel…see the chaos and they quickly flee into the monastery.

Gavin and Vess charge up the tower…all the while the chanting in her head takes on a fevered pitch.

Grovo, Hawk, and Shou give chase, and through Grovo’s charm and Shou’s command the monks leave the door open for them all to retreat to safety. Inside they see two monks prostrate, the prior chanting a sermon, with Symbol wresting an arm on the prior’s shoulder.

Back to the tower, Gavin gains entrance to the rooftop and with a quick slash, the guard hesitates and hell erupts.

Ashen faces with smokey serpentine bodies erupt from the guards mouth, ears, nostrils, and eyes, all swarming towards Vess. Gavin, cleaves one as it passes, but the other six fly into Vess’s body. The player wanted to stop so she could join another boardgame, and had just rolled a 6-, so I hit real hard.

Shou coaxed Sola to reveal a secret, and a light shines on Symbol revealing the truth behind an illusion; a horned head, with canine snout and cloven feet.

Back to the tower, a spawn erupts from Vess’s face. Demonic tendrils of smoke and shadow whip and writhe from her ears, nostrils, mouth, and one eye; The other eye burns with witching purple. And Gavin steels himself for the fight ahead.

In the monastery, Hawk cows Symbol by muttering her true name. Symbol begins to bargain and plead with Hawk…offering visions power. Hawk wrestles with the temptation…

And Gavin, locked in a battle, loses sword, breaks free of a grapple, dives for his sword, as the monster continues to sap his strength.

And Hawk, having given pause, utters Symbol’s true name again and she dissipates.

Finally Gavin makes one last plunge; defying the smokey tendrils to sink his sword into the creature that once was Vess. Gavin, victorious, limps down.

A Collection of Short Session Recaps

What follows is a resurrection of a blog post I wrote a year and a half ago.

It has been awhile since my last Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker session report.  We have had a horrific time getting together to play. Life schedules can be such a hyrda.

After OnusBone’s comments on my Dungeon World Kickstarter announcement, I feel like I should continue writing the session reports.

Wedding Day Redux

Unfortunately most of this is lost.

Tackling the Tower

This session felt different.  Joe, the game master, came with a set of puzzles/trap rooms that we were going to have to navigate to the basement of the tower.  There were several rooms with physical challenges and numerous ability and skill tests.

So many that poor Margaret, still recovering from her Midi wound managed to advance both Speed and Power both to B5 – Margaret made some ridiculously lucky checks to avoid catastrophe.

The session worked rather well…the consequences for failure were rather obvious (i.e. don’t fall, don’t drown, etc.)  And here is where I note something, that I think, is interesting; But more on that later.

We’re Going to Need Another Researcher

We spent the first few hours regaining some of our traction from a long interlude. With such a long hiatus, it was somewhat natural.  Unfortunately, trying to restart a campaign in a library doing research is not quite starting en media res.

We didn’t learn much through the tower library – I believe we learned about the burial place of our grandfather.  However, while others were researching, Margaret did work at instructing her niece and nephew in Butchery – using Beginner’s Luck to work at opening Child-Rearing.

Through Astrology, Margaret did divine the location the Redguard’s portion of the map; We were going go back to where Julia was originally captured.  The family decided it was time to return to the capital.

First Casting

Margaret survived her first casting of Flame Breath with only a whimper. Alas the details have long since been forgotten.

Observations

Contrast the consequences of a failed physical test vs. a failed “mental” test.  We intrinsically understand what a failed physical test means…you fall, you get hurt, etc.  We are able to map our player understandings to the character’s world.  However, what does a non-physical failure look like?  We don’t learn something, we stop, we get caught, etc.

In the case of climbing, the consequence wasn’t “You can’t climb it” the consequence was “You fall”.  As I see it there are three outcomes of a climb test: “You climb it”, “You are stuck somewhere” and “You fall”.

Compare that to the failed “Research” test.  As a player, I was at the end of my patience concerning information.  We were in a freaking old library of the characters’ grandfather who was a guardian of that which we were trying to learn about.  And we learned nothing.  So when Peter and Anna, Peter’s wife, failed their research test we got a big fat “You learn nothing.”  Then what was the point of the test? Why did Anna get to mark a test for her Research?

If I were at the helm, choosing the consequence for failed research I would have started with “Okay if you fail the test, you’ll learn how to find the portal, but you won’t like the price.”  Then with the failed research, I would’ve had them stumble upon a passage that said “To reveal the portal to the next generation of guardians, the first born of the new generation must be sacrificed.”  Or some such ominous thing.  After all, every single characters’ belief is tied to protecting their family. The stakes are high so keep them elevated.

Without consequences of failure in the “mental” arena, test mongering becomes standard. In fact, I fired off a string of successive Astrology tests out of frustration and desperation, knowing that the consequences for failing an OB10 test was “And I mark a Challenging Test.”  In fact, without Astrology, we would be completely lost…but it is an unreliable means of advancing the story.

An astute reader of the Sorcery section will notice that tests already have backed in complications.  Especially when attempting a First Reading.

So, in an attempt change my micro-culture I’m going work hard to demand a consequence before I roll for a test. I ask that players in my games, be they Burning Wheel or otherwise, do the same.  I think this method of positing two outcomes before determining one is good practice as well as helpful in getting the creative elements going.  We build our narratives not only on the paths we take, but by those we’ve considered taking.

Burning Wheel or Dungeon World

An astute reader of this blog will have seen my transition from Burning Wheel to Dungeon World. It is also possible that they would infer my love affair with Burning Wheel is over. But  I assure you that it is not.

What follows is a modified response to an RPGGeek users question:

I have a question, since you seem well versed in both systems: what do you think now of Burning Wheel after having read and played Dungeon World (or for that matter any Apocalypse World hack)?

Picking the System to Run

If I had to pick the game, either Dungeon World or Burning Wheel I would ask one question: How many sessions will this game really last?

If I know there will be 20 sessions or more for a campaign, I would instantly pick Burning Wheel. If I knew there would be less than 5, I would pick Dungeon World.

For me, Dungeon World is an immediately accessible system in which I can get going fast. It has what I would consider a standard shelf life for campaign play – the advancements are traditional; though you can construct  narratively rewarding advancements (i.e. Compendium Classes that offer character variation based on what happened in the fiction.)

Contrast this with Burning Wheel which has a pretty hefty initial investment. But I look and see such fantastic options for campaign play – advancing my character requires advancing my understanding of the rules. It rewards pushing yourself as a player and your character.

To use an analogy,

Dungeon World is Neil Gaiman’s “Graveyard Book”; I find it easy to read, extremely accessible, and altogether enjoyable. I would also have a hard time subsisting on only this.

Burning Wheel is John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” or Dante’s “Inferno”; I find those hard to read but in the reading not only does my reading skill improve, but my understanding of the literary world and references increase as well.

Diving Deeper

Dungeon World, for me, is so very easy to pick up and run with. The Move structure of “fiction -> mechanics -> fiction” is such an amazing refinement on what many of us have internalized.

At Origins last year I ran three distinctly different adventures off the cuff for three distinctly different groups. And each 4 hour session was spectacular for me and the other players.

I have found the loose rules structure extremely liberating in regards to the fiction; Letting the events at the table – both in the fiction and in the questions I ask the players – form much of the game.

Burning Wheel for me is very rewarding game to read and digest. It is a finely crafted system with numerous parts moving in harmony. It rewards both character and player for long-term engagement with the system.

The sweet spot for Burning Wheel is that it provides numerous mechanisms for focusing the game on things extremely close to the characters (Relationships, Beliefs, and Instincts to name a few). The scope of Burning Wheel can feel so much more intimate.

I haven’t run Burning Wheel since running Dungeon World, but that is not because I don’t want to. I have entered a cycle of minimal time for commitment. So Dungeon World’s quick startup time is a boon.

I would highly recommend, if you can find a copy, picking up the Adventure Burner. It is Burning Wheel Headquarters break down of the nuances of Burning Wheel and helps to convey how they think about games.

And while you are at it, I would consider getting a copy of Torchbearer. It is Burning Wheel Headquarter’s love letter to the earlier versions of D&D. It uses the Mouseguard and Burning Wheel engine for a dungeon crawl game.

I am a huge fan of Torchbearer’s conditions. Instead of the wounds of Burning Wheel, which rightly condition a player to say “Am I willing to fight for this?”, conditions are an easier pill for the player to swallow. But conditions are a potential death spiral just as injuries in Burning  Wheel.

Another experiment I would strongly consider, though haven’t done myself, is to take the lessons you’ve internalized from Dungeon World and apply them to the hub of Burning Wheel (the first 70 or so pages).

Also make sure to check out my blog posts for Burning Wheel and Dungeon World for comparing and contrasting.

Fade into Fey – Session 2

Following on our initial session, Svell, Kent, and Gingersnap were welcomed house guests of the Baron of Deep Forest.

What’s so Good about this Morning?

The session opens with Kent waking with Lady Sarah at his side; She is full of regret, and while she is dressing, Kent slips out.

Meanwhile Gingersnap is puttering around the kitchen heavily salts the morning wine, but draws the attention of one of the hunting mastiffs. A chaotic chase ensues, leading to a study.

As the mastiff is chasing Gingersnap, Kent engages in conversation with Sir Allen Smythe, who had recently had his tea spilled on his shirt by a marauding mastiff. It turns out Sir Allen is Lady Sarah’s father.

And with that revelation, Gingersnap, having been chased into a study, successfully escapes, leaving the mastiff to tear apart the room.

Lady Sarah comes down the stairs…somber…Sir Allen seeks to comfort her. Kent adjourns to the dining room. Sitting at the table with Lady Katherine of Deep Forest. Kent makes small talk with Lady Katherine…and both drink the salty wine.

I Demand Satisfaction

A roar erupts from the hall, “I’ll kill him!”

The door bursts open, and Sir Allen orders everyone out – save Lady Katherine and Kent. He then explains that his daughter’s honor had been sullied and he demanded satisfaction – a duel at sunset.

Kent is hesitant to accept the duel, confident he could easily out duel Sir Allen. Fortunately, Lord Arthos, late to the morning meal, enters and insists that Kent be detained until something can be decided.

I Will Aid Him with Fire

Kent was shackled and confined to the tower. Svell and Gingersnap decided they would try to rescue him. Ultimately they were able to get the guards to abandon their post.

So Svell went to work at unlocking Kent from the chamber above. Not to be too useless, Gingersnap opted to get one of the torches and help aid in “taking care of the door.” Needless to say things went terribly sour from there.

Kent was free but the tower had caught on fire. The household evacuated and bucket brigades were started, but it looked like the tower was going to be lost.

Svell thought, looked at some guttering, the well in the courtyard, and hatched a plan. However, as he was trying to construct a water pump and chute, his gloves had come undone and sunk into the well.

Needing them to complete the task, he dove after them…and while he was down there he noted that there was an underwater passage in the well. Not wanting to be distracted he surfaced.

During this time, Kent was attempting to coordinate the villagers.

I Wish for a Storm

As the village is scrambling to put out the tower fire, Kent realizes that he won’t be able to be the hero of this situation. So turning to Gingersnap, he mutters, “I wish for a storm!”

Below is the move for Gingersnap’s the wish:

When you grant a mortal’s wish, spend 1 Boon and roll +Wis. *On a 10+, you may choose up to 3. *On a 7-9, you may choose up to 2.

  • The wish seems to give them what they want.
  • The wish gives them what they need.
  • You may choose whether the wish later brings them misfortune or not.
  • You choose whether the wish has an immediate unpleasant side effects or not.

Gingersnap got an 8, and chose no later misfortune for Kent and gives them what they need.

Having already established the coming war between fairy and mortal, it was easy.

From the fairy forest, sorrowful winds pick up, driving rain and gusts towards the village. Drenching the burning tower as thunder claps… vengeance…all so very fast…lightning strikes…Lady Sarah is struck…then the tower…exploding timbers…others struck…the rage passes.

Sir Allen and Kent scramble to Lady Sarah’s aid, dragging her to shelter in the Deep Forest manor.

We Can Maker Her Stronger

Lady Sarah’s breath had stopped, but a quick thinking Svell jury-rigged a breathing apparatus for her – a manual ventilator with a hand cranking wheel. Her father, Sir Allen, asked if she could hear him.

Svell again jury-rigged something up, and Sir Allen began speaking to her. Though she did not respond.

Kent, now more than a little angry at how his wish was fulfilled, grabbed Gingersnap and made a hasty egress.

And the Bait was Raspberry Pie

Gingersnap went looking for some snacks, and found a raspberry pie. Which turned out to be a trap by a village witch. She unloaded a few portents about the coming war but ultimately let Gingersnap abscond with a piece of pie.

Back at the Homestead

Without discussion and collaboration, the characters ended back up at Svell’s house to plan their next course of action.

Todo

  • I need to come up with a list of campaign questions to use for rewarding XP
  • I need to work on the Fronts for this campaign; Things escalated and I have an idea of what might be happening.