Dungeon World: First Crawl

My group's background is basically a crapload of Dungeons & Dragons (mostly 3rd and 4th Edition), a smattering of Gamma World and Dresden Files, a session or two of Exalted, andfor Josh and me at leastreading lots and lots of other RPGs that we never have time to actually play; Dragon Age, Dark Heresy, Mouse Guard, and Numenera to name a few.

We are largely of the opinion that D&D Next looks really good for the most part. However since it is still in the playtest stage, rather than try to build campaigns around itas opposed to short dungeon crawly rompswe have decided to take the time to finally give some other RPGs a shot (which might give us some feedback ideas for Next, anyways). First on the roster? Dungeon World.

Dungeon World kind of reminds me of The Dresden Files, in that the characters are tied together from the startthereby avoiding the whole "you meet in a tavern" tropeand players help contribute to the world, so the burden is not entirely shouldered by the DM/GM/Storyteller. It also reminds me of 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, what with the more traditional race and class selection (including the thief instead of rogue), as well as race-limiting classes (hello human-only paladin) and (optional) 3d6 stat generation.

Melissa decided to roll with an elf druid, while Kamon went with a human rogue. I was surprised to see halfling as a possible race option for the fighter, and decided to go with that because A) it was not exactly a "traditional" combination (unlike Melissa and Kamon's choices), B) I was curious as to how well fighters stacked up, and C) I was even more curious as to how fighters would stack up when they were powered by a Small humanoid.

After a few questions the game started with us heading to a mining town along with a caravan delivering supplies. We were apparently helping Kamon's character deliver a package, though we did not know what was inside. When we made camp a bunch of gnolls attacked, I suspect because in my backstory the village where my character came from was wiped out by gnolls. He managed to hunt them down and slay their leader, taking a jagged, bleeding sword that was possessed by the souls of its previous owners (almost exclusively murderous, savage pack leaders).

Combat in Dungeon World is strange because there is no initiative or turns: the GM describes what is going on, and the players respond. They also always roll the dice2d6 + stat modand dice results are interpreted as basically success (10+), partial success (7-9), and failure (6 or less), also known as yes, yes but, and no.

For example if an orc charges you, you might try to block their weapon with your shield, parry the attack, roll out of the way, or whatever makes sense for your character (which probably amounts to a Defy Danger roll). If you roll well then you evade the attack entirely (and maybe gain an advantage), if you do not then you might take some damage and/or get put in a bad spot; maybe he knocks your weapon away, breaks your shield, forces you into some nasty terrain, etc. The GM will probably give you a choice, which makes the "yes, but" results really interesting and fun.

So when Josh described gnolls rushing into camp, leaping on unfortunate guards and tearing out their throats, I figured that what with my healthy hatred of gnolls (which some might consider a survival instinct) the best course of action was to charge into them and deliver a heavy dosage of Hack & Slash (ie, the most basic and straightforward damage dealing move). I rolled well, hacking apart a gnoll and sending his limbs flying into his pack mates. Did I mention that my signature weaponformerly the aforementioned gnoll murder-bladehad the Huge trait? It adds the messy and forceful tags, which lets you deal damage in particularly gruesome ways and shove the target around if it happens to still be alive.

Josh went around the table, giving everyone a chance to react; Kamon grabbed the package and tried to hide, while Melissa tried to shapechange into a wolf. Tried was the figurative word, here; she ended up as a bizarre hybrid of various animals when her fight and flight wires got crossed. Kamon got spotted and managed a partial success on a Defy Danger, opting to take damage so that he could hang on to the box. Melissa spent her hold (shapechanging gives you 1 or 3 points of "hold" to spend on special attacks) in order to call a pack of wolves to help even the odds.

We eventually beat them back, deducing that they were in fact after the box after finding a strange tattoo of an evil god on their skin (Torog, because Josh was using an amalgamation of Greyhawk and 4th Edition gods). Despite Melissa's protests Kamon had a policy against opening boxes, even if the cargo attracted gnolls. My character did not mind; when it came to gnolls the more the merrier.

We made it to the town without any further hitches, delivering the box to a seemingly innocuous NPC that paid us almost enough to get +1 on a Carouse roll, though I spent most of it on healing potions and halfling weed. We had another hook involving a wizard in a tower somewhere in the woods anyway, probably because of Kamon's character.

We decided to rest for the night so that we could heal and tally XP (after learning how to heal and tally XP, of course). XP works by discovering new things, defeating noteworthy monsters, and doing things involving character bonds and alignment. Generally I guess this means that you can reasonably get about 3-6 XP per session. I am not sure if you can count things multiple times, but since you only need your level + 1 to level up, it is not so bad. It is certainly a lot better than having to plow through 10+ encounters.

On a lark my character decided to explore the town after sunset, as in a place called Devil's Reach it seemed like the best time to do it, especially when looking around for signs of evil-god-worshipping cults. I did find one, urinated on the spot where I found it, and went to fetch the gang so we could kick in the doors, kill whoever was inside, and loot the place. It took awhile to convince them that this course of action was probably legal because, hey, they are evil anyway, but once they were in it was easy to find the place again because the druid shapechanged into a dog so that she could smell my pee more easily.

The entrance lead to a tavern cellar (hooray for Bend Bars, Lift Gates). Inside we found a hatch in the floor, and after a jaunt down a 100-foot long, cavernous passage found an alter with dried blood and a secret compartment full of coins and an ornate dagger. We had resealed the hatch on the way down, and decided to have Melissa listen before we re-opened it. Sure enough, a couple of people were arguing. We tried waiting to see if they would leave, but one of them opened the hatch and this is where things really started to go south.

As the hatch opened I rolled Hack & Slash, figuring that we had surprise and I was not going to waste it on probably evil cultists that may be able to use magic. I stabbed him in the head, and using the forceful tag heaved him at his friend, which turned out to be the tavern owner. We interrogated the guy, finding out that he actually was part of an evil cult. Assuming we would get some kind of reward, Kamon went to the sheriff's office to see what the difference was between the reward for finding and killing a cultist, as opposed to finding and turning one in.

Unfortunately it turned out that while worshipping evil gods in Devil's Reach was frowned upon, it was not exactly illegal. Who knew? Since Melissa's character was generally against the wanton murder of strangers, even if they were evil cultists who sacrificed people (which he totally admitted to), we convinced her to head back to the tavern ahead of us. When she left I knifed the guy, and as we dragged him back in were spotted by a tavern wench. Kamon and I doused the cellar in lamp oil and lit it on fire, hoping to remove witnesses (there are rolls for Outstanding Warrants, after all) and distract law enforcement while we fled town.

Melissa's character was both confused and rightly suspicious as to why we were suddenly leaving in the middle of the night, right after the tavern we were just at burst into flames. We told her that arson was probably an common issue in a place called Devil's Reach, and that if taverns were just going to spontaneously combust that we were safer off in gnoll-infested woods. Besides, the next adventure hook was out there, anyway.

We quit soon after we got to an alchemist's tower, snooped around, found some zombies, and made a deal to deliver mostly-intact bodies in exchange for money. It was not until about a week later that I realized that Josh was cribbing some material from the adventure Within the Devil's Reach, which in turn cribbed a lot more from the first Age of Worms adventure, The Whispering Cairn.

Mechanically the game is pretty fun, though there are not a lot of choices for, well, basically anything. Want to play a paladin? Human is your only race. Cleric? Well you can be a human or a dwarf. There are only fourteen weapon typesincluding the ragged, fine, and hunter's bowand three types of armor (and here I was complaining about D&D Next's lack of choices).  Spells are similarly spartan, and without creating a bunch of custom moves I hope you were not hoping to play a pyromancer or summoner wizard.

The lack of turns and wildly varying interpretations of move results can be very confusing, especially if you come from a background of games that have a turn order and well-defined results for attack/skill rolls; even after playing it a couple times I am still not sure if we are "doing it right". For example, a miss is a miss in Dungeons & Dragons. In Dungeon World, a miss might mean you end up taking damage, lose something valuable, get put in a bad spot, or something else. Thankfully, someone wrote up a beginner's guide on the Dungeon World forum.

Again, the collaborative nature of the game is something that I first experienced with The Dresden Files, and the campaign and adventure fronts also remind me a lot of troubles (which is not a bad thing). Both of these could work really well in Dungeons & Dragons (and many other games, I am sure) as a way to help get players more heavily invested, and help create a flexible, evolving campaign framework. I think that it is worth your time and money (all of $10), if for no other reason to steal these ideas.

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