Posted by : David Guyll December 13, 2012

Almost a year ago I decided to run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign using a setting and approach that I was not familiar with. The setting was 4th Edition's "implied setting" with a twist: rocks fell, everyone died. In other words the gods and primordials, each desperate to come out of the Dawn War victorious, ended up destroying what they had created. The result was countless islands, some dead gods and primordials, decaying dominions, dead stars, and worse scattered throughout the Astral Sea.

A Sundered World.

I did not put a lot of thought into how exactly the mortal races survived. Like, were they created before the war ended? Were they born from the blood shed by the gods (or primordials in the case of genasi)? A little of column A and B? I also did not fret much on where they got their food and water from, though I did entertain ideas like clerics grasping at the lingering divine power from dead gods, powerful spirits that survived the cataclysm, and "mining" water from the fringes of the Elemental Chaos (or icy shores surrounding the corpse of Crynoax).

Initially I wanted to flesh out the world as I normally do, then start working on adventure seeds, and finally, after I felt I had enough content thoroughly prepared, actually play. There were only two people available, so I guess I was hoping that by the time I was ready we might have one or two more. Ultimately, and I forget why, I said "screw it" and decided to just play. Kamon and Kiara rolled up their characters--a goliath shaman with a snake theme and an eladrin bladesinger--we hashed out some quick backgrounds and character motivations, and just made it up as we went along.

This first session of A Sundered World marked the start of one of, if not the best, campaign I have ever run (and according to Kamon and Kiara, the best they had ever played). Throughout its entire run we did not use minis or a battle mat, instead abstracting forced movement powers to something like zones, I guess similar to how it works in The Dresden Files. I made up monster starts largely on the fly, ignoring the whole level + X defenses and attack bonus formula, instead going with a rule of thumb that monsters should die in 1-5 "hits" depending on what and how big they were.

I did not stop at monsters, also creating magic items, powers, and feats without any regard to "balance", mostly because I did not have time to compare them with existing stuff. They found a suit of magical leather armor that granted Damage Resistance and allow you to reflect any type of ranged attack every encounter. Josh and Kiara found a pair of magical longswords that let them fire lightning bolts, and if they both waited and used them at the same time could combine the attack for an even bigger punch. I gave Kamon a bonus feat at one point that let him use his Wisdom for basic attacks.

I also sometimes changed the core rules, the most noteworthy deviation being when I would have them make ability checks to avoid effects, similar to saving throws in past editions. This proved to work out really well narratively speaking when Josh and Kia dueled shortly after they met, as they could narrate how they responded to things and make a check. For example, Kia could roll Intelligence to bring up a field of arcane force to deflect an attack, or use fey step to dodge one (and potentially get the drop on Josh). I used this approach in a few other instances, the most memorable being when they fought some star cultists on Acamar.

Sure there were hiccups, and in hindsight there are a lot of things that I would change if I could. Eventually after 15 or so levels things kind of petered out, which sucks because despite my lack of extensive planning there were a lot of things (NPCs, locations, plots, etc) that I wanted to resolve, and many more that could have been revealed.

I say all of this because looking back at how I was planning things and how we played, it reminds me an awful lot like how things are "supposed" to work in Dungeon World.

Rather than have a big map with lots of locations, I had a few cities and points of interest with just a few words attached. Rather than fully fleshing the story out, I had a small list of potential villains with goals that would trigger depending on what the characters did (as fate would have it, they released a primordial's weapon). When I asked Kia how she was going to dodge a star cultist's blade-covered, telescoping arms, she was Defying Danger (and when she failed to hit him with a blast of fire, that would have been a Miss followed by a special move).

In between various D&D Next playtests Dungeon World has become our current game of choice (not for a lack of enjoying D&D Next, mind you). Part of it is that it seems fresh and new, but another part is that it strongly caters to the playstyle that we were enjoying even as we shoehorned 4th Edition into it. I am strongly considering starting the game over with a new cast of characters, though if we could get Kia back (stupid school schedule) picking up where we left off would also work.

Another thing I want to do is publish the setting as a kind of Dungeon World campaign playbook, which would consist of both campaign and adventure fronts, steadings, NPCs, monsters, and more. Not a fully fleshed out campaign setting that you would expect from Dungeons & Dragons, but, in the spirit of Dungeon World's agendas and principles, lots of building blocks to play with. What do you think? Does the setting seem interesting enough? Would you still duwant prefabbed adventures? Maps? Compendium Classes? Something else?

{ 13 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I was personally hoping for the setting for D&D 4e. I am a huge fan of the campaign posts and wanted to play in that setting. Not that I can't extrapolate the setting from the posts, but still. But if the setting were system-neutral, I would still be satisfied.

    I have in fact applied some of the improv. rules principles to my Nentir Vale game. In a Hammerfast campaign, I improvised some minion fire elementals with the same defenses as the one in the monster vault, and the set damage values in DMG2. One of my players vastly prefers fighting without minis when there isn't much in the way of sensitive environment to work with. I'm even experimenting with the custom level-up.(haven't had a chance to test it yet) It all seems to work for me.

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  2. We could write up more defined stuff for 4th Edition, too (including 4th Edition-specific content). That would ultimately be the easiest way to go about it, as pretty much all the custom stuff I did was kept in a notepad or in various Word docs.

    In addition to the custom rules, I would also suggest drastically reducing monster hit points and see how they like that. For my group it greatly reduced the "grind" feel and made it easier to describe damage.

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  3. I too have taken a hold of Dungeon World as the D&D I want to play, the game covers my specific needs as a GM, just waiting to see if my group enjoys the playstyle to know if I will run a long game or a short one.

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  4. I have only played it, but will be running something this weekend. My main complaints are the lack of choices (also, restricted choice). I know that you can houserule it, I just wish there were more races, classes, spells (for thematic casters), equipment, and so on.

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  5. Will it be in the same format as those updated 4e keep on the shadowfell docs? It seems that I can't access those.

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  6. I approve of drastically reducing monster hit points. I typically half it for standard and elite, and cut it to about 3/4 for solos. It helps speed combat a great deal without sacrificing the danger. Actually, I tend to throw more dangerous enemies at them, to compensate for them dying faster.

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  7. What do you do about accuracy and damage for higher-level monsters? I'm unclear about that. for my party-of-one, I usually just fudge the dice behind the screen or, when appropriate, have an NPC telepathic cat heal her.
    What would you do?

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  8. @Anon: Email me your address and I will send you the Keep on the Shadowfell kitbash stuff for 4E. I am not sure why its not still up on dropbox.

    As for drastically reducing monster hit points, I am talking about dropping level 1 stuff to like, 6-12 hit points. Basically, fighters can probably take stuff down in a hit or two. If the monster is big or does not particularly care about its anatomy--stuff like undead and constructs--I might give them around 18.

    A lot of this arose from having a small party (two at first); I wanted to throw more than a couple monsters at them at a time, so made it easy even for Kamon's shaman to take stuff out and had them deal smaller amounts of damage. Generally once per session or adventure I would throw something bigger at them that pushed them to the brink to shake things up.

    For a solo game, if you wanted to stick close to 4E's "official" rules, you are going to want to use lots of minions and potions from Mordenkainen's book that heal without needing surges. Of course, you could include followers/hirelings/companion characters in the mix, and emphasize exploration and other objectives. If you are not going with the "core" XP model and having the player level up for resolving story stuff and the like you can get away without lots of combat.

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  9. Honestly, I think I can extrapolate your mechanical changes to KotS based on your posts. Of course, if I ever find myself running it, I will combine your stuff with material from the Eberron conversion. Nothing personal, just don't want to share my E-mail with people i don't know in person.

    I sort of combine 'official' rules with some of your stuff. I take a standard monster, transform it into a minion with the stuff in DMG2, and hey presto! An eight-to-one encounter that will not kill her too soon! Unfortunately, I don't have MME. I just have a telepathic fey cat follow her around and help when things get too tough. (companion character, leader)

    I haven't mentioned my party-of-one's class. Essentials Human, PHB Rogue with a rapier, hand crossbow, and Sly flourish.

    Do I just divide a monster's HP by level+1 ? I just need a basic HP conversion trick that works on any level, if it isn't too much trouble.

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  10. The kobold slyblade has 29 hit points, which would still take a Sneak Attacking Dex/Cha 18 sly flourishing rogue on average of two hits to kill. Without Sneak Attack it will still take two hits, or three if you roll badly.

    Kobold slingers have 24 hit points, and at 12 work out pretty well as-is.

    So, I guess halving the hit points means that there is still a chance that it will take two hits, or one on a lucky hit (and her odds are waaay better on a Sneak Attack). Personally I consider halving it to be a solid benchmark, but would still probably adjust it down a few depending.

    As for the potion out of MME, it is a potion of cure light wounds. It costs 20 gp, and heals 1d8 + 1 hit points without costing a healing surge IF you are bloodied when you drink it. There are higher level versions that heal and cost more.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. I have posted a similar idea for a Dungeon World game here: http://gmstruggles.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/dungeon-world-seed-for-the-game/

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  13. She gets CA a LOT, between First strike and nat 1. It doesn't hurt that her daily is Blinding Barrage and she has positioning strike as her encounter.

    I'm more likely to use the Kobold Quickblade in the Monster vault. Better format and all that. But that's just a personal preference. Thanks for the advice!

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