July 10th, 2014


Dungeon World

Our last GURPS campaign fizzled out a few years ago; it was too hard to get all the players together to play, and it was hard to get a lot done in a single session.

I've been getting the itch to play some RPGs lately. But I'm looking for a source that avoids those problems. Here's what I want:
- play is fast enough that we can have a whole adventure in one session (ideally including learning to play).
- advancement is slow enough that characters with more playtime can play nicely with characters with less playtime.

Friends have suggested Dungeon World might qualify, so we've been testing it out.

I've played in four sessions so far:
#1 with Dave and Lori. I used a convention adventure "The Slave Pits of Drazhu" I found online. I replaced the big spider with a customized monster. It was pretty cool - including a very nifty bit where Lissani (Lori's character) stepped in front to intercept a spell meant for Willem.

#2 with Dave, Kevin, Andy, and Steve. I came up with a short custom adventure to meet Siggrun, a dwarf artificer had built a vehicle that could travel to the lands of the dead and return. It was decent, but I didn't delve into character backstories as much as I would have liked to, and action bogged down at times. (And players had different ideas about what RPGs ought to be.)

#3 with Kevin and Lori. I felt that I was not really grasping the improvisational style that Dungeon World offered, so I tried to overcorrect by going in with no preparation. It was very slow to start, but it ended up very nifty; we ended up with a coherent adventure in which the PCs discovered and thwarted an attempt by a pack of gnolls to summon a demon by creating a massive rune of destruction.

#4 with Dave and Lori. I meant to prepare something for this, but didn't make time to do so. It started slow and we didn't finish the adventure, but I really liked where it was going. We'll pick it up again next week, and I'm looking forward to it.

Dungeon World definitely favors a very improvisational style; there are many moments that call for the GM to come up with something on the spur of the moment - both things about the local action and the whole world. I have two wildly different feelings about this.
On the one hand, it feels like a sort of Potemkin village, in which the players just see a thin veneer of description without a coherent world underneath.
On the other hand, it feels like I as the GM am learning about the world during play along with the PCs, and that's feeling very exciting.

I am getting to the point that there are enough cool bits that I should be taking notes. I admit, I don't really like taking notes and wish I didn't have to - even if it's for such good reasons. Here's things I remember from our first few sessions:

- The lich Drazhu hired Willem when he was living, before he became a lich and enslaved everyone.
- When you bring back something from the land of the dead, you have to leave something behind. Siggrun brought back an amulet left to a dead woman by her lover, and left her hand (which she replaced with an artificial one).
- Nanukial's tribe of elves was driven out of the forest by a horrific evil and now resides in the frozen north.
- Nanukial and Lissani were following a game path through the forest when they realized that path was skillfully crafted to look like an natural path.
- Nanukial and Lissani met a small grove of dryads. Their grove is Caerlindel.
- Dryads are intelligent but grasp symbols with only the greatest effort.
- Far to the south is the vast necropolis Kereth-Ammon.
- Orcs are normally savage and brutal, but Lissani and Willem have seen evidence of an orc shaman gathering mushrooms for magic ritual and showing enough mastery of nature to summon savage gorilla-like nature spirits.
- Islith's Haven is an abbey devoted to Boccob, the god of magic and secret knowledge. Lissani and Willem had to pledge to keep the abbey's secrets to be allowed entrance, and Aethelna, the acolyte who welcomed them, has secrets that she holds to even more tightly. She has said that Willem will have to present the information to Cadeus, "who tends the Long Secrets", and she regards Cadeus with apprehension.