December 13, 2012
Posted by David Guyll at Thursday, December 13, 2012
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?