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.
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.
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?”
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.
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
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.