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dungeon world smallOur group got together, minus one (or two if you count Alan who can only very rarely join), and this usually means that the  Parsantium  campaign usually takes a back seat for boardgames.

This time we asked Simon to take up the role of DM to play a single episode RPG using the Dungeon World rules.

Dungeon World (DW) claims to provide original D&D feel with next to none of the D&D mechanics. At first this seemed a ridiculous claim until I compared my experiences with what I remember from playing 1st ed AD&D so long ago in my teenage years. Back then, I seem to recall, the rules were more like pointers or aides memoire rather than a concrete set of instructions. We just talked shit and if we needed to roll a few dice every now and then we did. Today I look at D&D5e and despite its massive simplifications it’s still a mechanistic process laden with detail.

So what was the special element that DW brought to the table? Thinking about what your character was doing rather than simply manipulating a set of attributes in a mix-n-match boardgame, basically.

Now you could do this naturally, of course, and if you have been moving towards story-gaming this is the way you do it. But it does seem to me that we, as the game buying public, have been spoilt into accepting finished, completed, wrapped up products. It’s an exercise of selecting just-the-right shaped game tool and applying it. Complete with art and seamless mechanics and all the other shit that we used to dream about as kids. And the effect is that it dumbs you down to expect and be only able to respond in a limited, approved fashion. DW kills that.

I could wax lyrical on this topic – and have been until I deleted it. But you either understand what I mean or you don’t. Back in the 80’s we used to talk about the difference between Role players and Roll players. Either this means something to you and you happily fit in one camp or the other, or it means nothing, in which case I’m not sure how to reach you.

In any case, what are the key mechanics of DW that facilitates talking about doing stuff in your imagination as opposed to running a fantasy skirmish wargame? (Both are OK, I hasten to add: they are just very different.)

Dungeon World changes the task resolution roll from a simple Yes/No result to a Yes/Yes But/No (and sometime No And).

In D&D (and any other mainstream RPG) you roll a die (or dice), add or subtract factors, and if you roll better than a target you succeed, if worse you fail. ‘His armor class is 16. You need to roll 16 or better to hit him.’ and so on. Hit or miss. No story to speak of.

In DW you roll and if your results indicate you succeed as advertised (do damage, pick the lock, climb the wall, whatever), or you succeed BUT something else happens that you can choose (sword stuck, dislodge a stone and make a noise, etc), or you fail and the DM may inflict something on you. This simple change creates results that propel a story and do not just produce an exercise of rolling dice.

When you think back on a combat or an action in ordinary D&D you make up the story, ‘remembering’ to enliven the dull rolls with action. DW makes that happen as it happens. You don’t need to make up the story about what your roll might have meant. Your roll tells you.

Dungeon World is not the first game to try to do this. Mythic was a magnificent introduction to the world of telling stories rather than beating dice rolls. But DW bridges the gap between traditional pen and paper RPGs and genuine Story Games by constraining the elements into known parameters. Bards do Bard things and are typically bardish people. In this way it is reminiscent of Risus where that character class is just a set of cliches rather than a set of rules. This restriction may seem constricting if you think the purpose of the set of rules is to provide you with mechanical factors to min/max. But a short and broad set of guidelines is a lot more free than a very long list of concrete rules.

So what, you might ask? As a long time DM and only seldom player I can tell you that the pressure of being the entertainer for a group of people can be quite daunting. In traditional RPGs the DM has to know everything, be everywhere, have it all sorted out and know the answers. You can abrogate this responsibility by using prepared material, but the result is the same. Some people get to live in the world and your job is to make it happen for them. That’s a lot of work and responsibility. With this set you get to explore and discover the world with the players.

Anyway, what did I discover about Parsantium using Dungeon World?

  • Elves pretty much believe that only they have souls. Everyone else, the short lived creatures, are more or less biological robots
  • There are few than 20,000 elves left in the world
  • A civil war amongst the elves long ago was precipitated by a pact with a demon. The losers of this civil war were exiled, entombed, imprisoned magically
  • The surviving victors of the civil war, those who opposed the demon and its perverted elves, are weak, few and are more or less becoming extinct
  • The barriers holding the perverted imprisoned are becoming weaker. They call out to be free