Posted by : David Guyll May 21, 2014

I have been linked by Jacob from Ramblings of Jacob and Delos twice now for a pair of Dungeon World conversions I did for the adventures Keep on the Shadowfell and Thunderspire Labyrinth.

Now these adventures are undeniably, unexpectedly, inexplicably horrible (especially coming from a big company like Wizards of the Coast), but that is not what this post is about: Jacob seems to really like the layout and style of these conversions, and with Sundered World coming up I am very interested in what other people think of how I format steadings and dungeons.

If you do not own either of my adventures (AND WHY NOT?!) and cannot be bothered to check out the conversions (ALSO WHY NOT?!), content-wise my current approach is to provide enough information to set the mood and feel of a place, provide some building blocks to work with, and let the players and GMs flesh it out as needed; after all, two of the principles are "draw maps, leave blanks" and "ask questions and use the answers".

It might sound lazy but Dungeon World really is about playing to find out what happens, and the more you set in stone ahead of time the harder that becomes. This is part of the reason I dislike so many Dungeons & Dragons adventures: every room, monster, NPC, and treasure is spelled out, and if you decided to wing it a missing item, encounter, or room might cause unexpected problems down the line, which means you will need further winging, and so on.

(NOTE: The same thing applies for campaign settings, which is one of the reasons I dislike Forgotten Realms.)

Anyway, the "building blocks" I currently use are the steading/dungeon name, tags, impressions, cast, places, custom moves (which I call location/dungeon moves), monsters, and treasure. Questions and stakes are sometimes included as a way to get the GM and players thinking about it, so that they can better tailor it for their campaign and story, or even to flesh out their own characters.

Here is a breakdown of each:

Steading/Dungeon Name
Pretty straightforward: this is the name of the steading or dungeon. I generally follow this with some brief history or flavor text to help describe it and set the tone.

Tags
This is mostly relevant for steadings, which explicitly are said to have tags, though I could see tagging a dungeon for general things being useful, too. I give Prosperity, Population, and Defenses their own lines, and lump much of the rest in Other unless I feel they need some explanation: Personage, Guild, and History for example.

Impressions
A small list of sensory information to give the GM a foundation to work with when describing the place. As with the block of text following the name it can help set the mood and let the players know what to expect.

Cast
I mostly use this for steadings, though I can see a dungeon having a cast if there is someone noteworthy about it, like an orc leader or a wandering ghost.

Places
I have only ever used this for steadings though, again, I could see this being used to designate special rooms or regions of a dungeon.

Location/Dungeon Moves
I start with a bulleted list of example moves to give a GM how to use the moves on page 165: use a monster, danger, or location move, reveal an unwelcome truth, show signs of an approaching threat, etc. I try to have them build up from the top to the bottom, so the list might start out by mentioning that "you find an orcish totem made from the corpse of a human", then "you stumble into an orcish trap", then "orcs attack from the cliffs above you".

Something I have considered is associating them with a type of move on the pg 165 list, so instead of just saying "you find bloody claw marks", it would read:

  • Show signs of an approaching threat: you find bloody claw marks, someone screams in the distance, a slurping sound coming from the pit just ahead, the bridge begins to crumble

Or even something like this:

  • You find bloody claw marks (show signs of an approaching threat)
  • Someone screams in the distance (show signs of an approaching threat)
  • etc

What do you think?

Once I get a list hashed out I follow up with the custom moves. I considered putting them in their own section in the back, but I think it works better having them in the section that they directly pertain to. I mean, I have not had an instance where I would need to repeat it. What would you prefer: keep them in a relevant section, repeat as necessary, reference to the original page, keep them in the back, or some combination?

Monsters
I use this for both steadings and dungeons (especially if a steading has the Blight tag) to mention both monsters from the Dungeon World book and homebrew stuff that can often be found there.

Treasure
So far this has been a dungeon-only section. I use it to give the GM a list of example treasures to refer to when treasure is found. I usually try to follow the types of treasure from the book, meaning that I start out with coins, then move on to useful items, gems, minor trinkets, etc.

Questions/Stakes
Sometimes I will add in a questions and/or stakes section for both the GM and players. This can help personalize and flesh out a location (and possibly even the characters), as well as provide adventure hooks. Here are a few examples taken from the port city Qasir (If These Stones Could Scream):
  • "Which of you owns/owned a ship?"
  • "Who has fought the sahuagin and bears the scars to prove it?"
  • "Who owes one of the captains a favor?" (alternatively, you could switch this to "who among you does a captain owe a favor?")

As an example of all of this in play here is the current draft of Mathunhain, one of the locations from Sundered World.

Mathunhain
Mathunhain is the largest village on Bodil's Bounty, a free island located at the edge of the Bhalen'lad Cluster, near a gulf of unclaimed Astral space that divides it from the Bahamut Span. Much of the island is dominated by jagged mountains and thick forests, though there are enough open fields to support several villages of hard-working humans and dwarves, in no small part due to their patron spirit: Bodil.

Tags
Prosperity Moderate
Population Steady
Defenses Watch
Denizens Mortals (humans, dwarves), Spirits
Personage Bodil—a bear spirit that protects the island, Sindri—a benevolent river spirit that flows nearby
Other Blight (the Oak Sisters, orcs), Trade (food, water), History (battle), Guild (druids)

Impressions
  • Farmers work the fields; some of the animals look like they are made of wood or stone
  • Boisterous singing and drumming emanates from a mead hall
  • Smell of earth and herbs
  • Houses bear carvings of animals and faces, particularly bears
  • One or more eyes briefly appear in houses, rocks, and trees, look about, and vanish
  • Tiny spirits appear from the ground, stealing or begging for food
  • Some of the animals speak, and even have human-like faces

Cast
Bodil is an old, powerful bear spirit that lays claim to the island, a claim that she has upheld twice against orcish hordes. She spends more of her time slumbering within the mountains, occasionally choosing someone from a village to teach druidic magic.

Sindri is a wide, winding river spirit that is on friendly terms with Bodil. The villagers also worship him, and in return he provides them with fish and water.

Places
Bodil's shrine is the crumbling shell of the fortress that was temporarily claimed by the orcs during their first attack, and sheltered the villagers during the second. The island's inhabitants regularly visit to leave her offerings.

The blood forest is the dominion of the Oak Sisters. They embody a more savage side of nature and anyone that enters the forest is potential prey to them.

Location Moves
  • Something moves within the trees.
  • A pack of wolfwood attacks.
  • You hear rumors that the orcs hid treasure deep within the ruined fortress.
  • A spirit appears and demands an offering.
  • A corrupted or frenzied spirit manifests and attacks
  • A fleet of orc spearships arrives.

When you leave an offering at Bodil's shrine, roll+CHA. *On a 10+, hold 3 blessing. *On a 7-9, hold 1 blessing. Spend 1 blessing to do one of the following:
  • Regain 1d4 hit points.
  • Take +1 forward to endure harm.
  • Take +1 forward to protect someone from harm.

Monsters
Bodil Solitary, Large, Intelligent, Spirit
Mauling claws (d10 +2 damage) 20 HP 1 Armor
Reach, Forceful
Special Qualities: Spirit of stone and thunder
Her bones are the mountains, her breath the wind, and her roar a deafening peal of thunder. Bodil spends most of her time sleeping, and it is rare for her to leave the mountains unless a village is under attack. Instinct: To protect her worshipers from harm
  • Suddenly manifest in an explosive display of rock and thunder
  • Unleash a bone-shattering roar of thunder and lightning
  • Draw upon stone to reconstitute her form or grow in size

Wolfwood Group, Stealthy, Construct
Thorny teeth (d8 damage, 1 piercing) 10 HP 1 Armor
Close
Special Qualities: Made of wood
The hounds of the Oak Sisters, woven from wood and vines. They are not spirits, but something made, and some say that they are given sentience from souls captured by the Oak Sisters, forced to serve as the vanguard of their hunts. Instinct: To hunt
  • Conceal itself among foliage
  • Entangle a creature in vines

Treasure
  • Coins
  • Animals can provide rations
  • An idol made of stone or bone
  • A blessing from Bodil or Sindri
  • Spirit shrines contain food, water, and fetishes
  • Though crude and often poorly maintained, orcs carry weapons and wear armor
  • Rare herbs can be found in the Blood Forest
  • A stone chest filled with coins

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

  1. I've never played Dungeon World, and I've only read a little of it so far. That being said, I still think your organization and clarity is fantastic. Even with my limited knowledge of the system, I could pick this up and play with it using just about any game. I'm in the process of revising a few different locales for public consumption, so I have been eagerly devouring anything regarding room descriptions, adventure / location presentation, levels of detail, and so on.

    Thanks for the insight!

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Adapt: No prob! Mostly I wanted to see if anyone felt that something was missing, or the information was not sufficient enough. I am using the same model for Sundered World, and I want it to be the best it can!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm also not much of a Dungeon World guy, but I really like the Impressions and Location Moves lists.

    The Treasure list is great too. I'd probably include settlements typical trade goods in there, both to help with bartering and stocking shops... and because that's what PCs (or, hopefully, the monsters the PCs kill) are going to steal.

    I'm not sure if I'd want Cast first or Places first, but that's a pretty minor quibble. Cast are more important for sure, but I feel like I always end up describing locations, then the NPCs that are present there. That might just be a GMing style thing.

    Cheers!
    Kinak

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh, the typical barter stuff is in the Craft, Resource, and Exotic tags. Like, Mathunhain's major resources are food (which can include grain and meat from hunting animals), as well as water since a water spirit inhabits the island (and water can be difficult to come by).

    Actually, I wonder if it would be better to mention specific foodstuffs in Resource. So instead of food, I would put in grain, fish, and meat?

    The only reason I am in favor of having cast come before locations is so that if a key NPC can be found in a location, or has some major influence over a location, that the GM will be aware of that ahead of time. Though, I suppose you could reference a NPC in a place, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd tend towards specific resources in Trade, just because it helps so much with the description. Trade (fish), Trade (wheat), and Trade (pork) suggest very different places, even without getting into fantastic options.

      I usually find players heading to locations and then meeting the NPCs there, but it certainly can go the other way ("We're looking for the Duke.") In either case, I agree whichever comes first should reference the latter one if the NPC generally stays at one location.

      Cheers!
      Kinak

      Delete

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