Thursday, 30 October 2014

Scheming Dice: Dungeon World


Dungeon World is one of those games you love in concept, want for roleplay, and hate when the dice need be thrown. This game is Powered by the Apocalypse. What that means, is that much of the focus and attention is given to actual narration of the story, and not so much to presenting the players with the combat simulator. (Just remembering the escapades of our party in the 4E of Dungeons and Dragons shivers me to the bones. The cold wind might be at fault as well.)

Most of the time spent playing Dungeon World, will be like playing Apocalypse World. You will create the setting together with your GM, and then spend time adventuring through the setting you created. The game is actually a strange mix. Some would say a compromise between the extremes that are on one side Apocalypse World, and on the other side Dungeons and Dragons, at least fourth edition. Two totally different approaches to tabletop roleplaying taking the best out of both systems. There is not as much rolling of the dice in Dungeon World as there can be in D&D, but effectively more than there is in Apocalypse World. This is in my opinion still the right amount of rolling the dice. It is a mechanic, and an effective one. At the same time not the one that takes away from the very game by distracting the players.

While we are talking about rolling the dice, like in AW, we have failure (1-6), partial success (7-9), and success (10-12) in Dungeon World as well. But unlike AW, you don't mark a specific stat in, and roll it to gain experience. Personally I miss this part, as I am a bit of power gamer in that regard. To me, promise of getting more powerful just by abiding the rules is a lucrative one. I find it helped the roleplay a lot as well.

Imagine you were about to go and have a fight with local gang of thieves, but because none of your combat stats are highlighted, you won't get any experience if you beat the living hell out of them. All of a sudden you have a scenario where in order to get the experience, but resolve the situation you will have to persuade them, threaten them, or even sic some other gang of lowlifes on them. And this is to some extent missing in DW by default. Your GM might fill the voids but, I love when the game itself presents needed framework.


The setting is, what you would call a classic fantasy setting. Well, at least when it comes to the assortment of given races and classes you can play. That means most of what you ever met in other tabletop, or computer fantasy RPG, will be in Dungeon World. We could say you have all the familiar "tools" at your disposal. It is up to you and your group to make something interesting out of it.

The game is easy on the dice, but not as easy as Apocalypse World in comparison. You will need two D6 dice, and then a couple more damage dice that can range from D4 to D10, maybe even D12 but I do not recall anyone from our group using that high dice. In general it is pretty straightforward, you will mostly roll your two D6, and if you are hitting something or someone, if you hit it, you will throw your damage dice.

In DW you get experience in three ways. You either accomplish one of your bonds, act in accordance to your alignment, and determine at the end of the session if you learnt something new about the world/got something valuable/explored something worth exploring. The last, and probably at the same time the most frustrating way of getting experience is by failed rolls. Bonds are there to create interesting interactions between the players's characters. The three questions at the end of the session are there to keep players intrigued, and interested, to pay attention to details. And the mother of all frustrations, is there to beat the lesson of "learning from your mistakes" deep into your skull.

We have particularly interesting set of rolls in our current group. I almost always roll success or partial success. Thus I am the lowest level of the three, but my kill count is the highest. Our ranger, and now a part time cleric is the highest level, but also has the most failures of us all. We are starting to suspect he's powerleveling, and failing on purpose just to outlevel the other two. Usually I would be the one chasing after every experience point, but I hate failing more than I love getting experience. Our resident warlock is the king of partial success, and I am certain this is the most frustrating roll you can get in DW. It is not full success, and you know something will go wrong, but it is not a failure either, and you will not get the experience needed to level up. While you might consider it ungrateful there is no benefit in partial success, but there are drawbacks. You don't get what you want, you don't get the experience, but you get a whole lot of complications.


The game itself as always depends on you and your group, and the setting you created together. We decided to go for the desert. I am starting to notice we love extremes. Before it was frozen wasteland, now it is desert. Our group, until now, spent most of its time escorting caravans, taking care of local thugs, and getting rid of some cultists. We had an encounter with really bad sandstorm, and a pack of assassins. Unlike with others, the deadliest enemy I have encountered was not even supposed to be an enemy. A camel proved to be more dangerous than all the devils swinging their scimitars at me. Same cannot be said for my fellows, the warlock and ranger. It helps when you play a fighter and have almost as much health as the rest of the group combined.

Dungeon World is entertaining, easy to get into, and a great game for those new to the whole concept of roleplaying. Character creation is easy, and far from complicated. I would say it can be done in a matter of couple of minutes, and I am certain I would not be lying. The combat is fast, at times unpredictable, and the the moves you have at your disposal are all straightforward. The only problem we currently face with the moves is that we don't really roll any "Discern Realities". In our defence, I kill everything too fast, while the rest of the group, even if they tried, would only end up farming experience points. We still get by.

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