Okay, so...Dungeon World. Hipster D&D. Amirite? Eh? Eh? Amirite?
...yeah, probably. I guess. I mean that's the rep it's got. Maybe. Does it? Have that rep? I don't know. But I know that I don't care. I don't care hard. Matter of fact I'm so far past caring, I can barely see caring in the rear-view mirror of my speeding Nofucksmobile.
No, 'cause, you see, I'd barely heard of the game when I rolled into Common Room Games last Saturday night. I knew only what I'd read about it over on Mike Lindsey's Station 53, and I knew that it had both the words "World" and "Dungeon" in its title, only probably not in that order. And in fact they were in the opposite order, as my wife, my daughter and I could plainly see, because the book was right there on the shelf and we could all read its cover. So I picked it up to look at it, and Frau Codename and I kinda skimmed it, and then I whipped out my datapad and scrolled through a review over on A Game Of Whit's and we were like "New take on old school? OK, sold why not." So she got some Fate dice and Kid Cheesepants (long story) got a Magic booster and I've been reading the book off and on in the two days since.
And what I've read...I've liked.
"That's great, Rotwang!," say those of you who haven't closed this tab. "Truly, honest. But WHY do you like it?" To you I say, "Dude, you've read this far? You're braver than I thought!" and then I say "Oh, yeah, um -- I like it because I recognize almost everything in it."
No, I'm not saying it's derivative, or that it's a ripoff or whatever. I'm saying that the way it does things makes all kinds of sense to me, in crazy, twisty, almost stupid ways.
"A-HA!" you say now, "this is why I came to this stupid blog in the first place: disjointed ramblings!" Your dedication and strange predilections are to be rewarded, sucka, for here are the reasons why Dungeon World makes sense to me:
IT'S TOTALLY GOT SOME TRAVELLER IN IT
|Don't tell me it's not so, you dirty liar.|
I'm not kidding. No, I -- STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT. I say this for two reasons: because of the task resolution algorithm, and because it's explicitly about making shit up like your life depends on it.
Right away I noticed that the success thresholds for Dungeon World task rolls map straight to Rule 68A. That is to say, Dungeon World's success rolls are on 2d6, and that the significant thresholds are at 6 and below (for failing), 7-9 (for, you know, a partial success) and 10 or above (for being badass). Over in Trav, an easy success is on a 6+, an average success is on an 8+ and hard stuff is 10+.
Granted -- this is a function of the bell curve you get on 2d6, and math has more to do with that than does, you know, Marc Miller. But the point is that I recognized it immediately, and I went, "This is Six-Eight-Ay!" and that was all it took. It's clean and it's simple and I got it right quick.
As I read further, I found that the game is almost fanatically devoted to the idea that nothing in the game is set in stone until you're ready for it to be, and that, furthermore, nothing even really exists in the game world until you, the GM and players, put it there. Character creation, in fact, is an exercise in generating game content; it's all questions and answers and wiiiiide open spaces that you, the GM and players, fill in as you go. This may only sound a little like Traveller, but -again- it clicked for me right away: behold a big empty canvas, and spontaneity is your brush.
This dovetails strrrrraight into one of the next thing I grokked, and which suits me just fine:
IT CARES NOT FOR YOUR PREP
|"Not settin' up the game next time!"|
Preparation for this game consists, I kid you not, of printing some stuff out and daydreaming.
Think about fantastic worlds, strange magic, and foul beasts, says page 175. What you bring to the first session, ideas-wise, is up to you. At the very least bring your head full of ideas.
This is awesome for me to read, because, frankly, I enjoy prep too much. I enjoy it to the point of overdoing it, and then it becomes less play and creativity and more struggle and frustration. OK; I can be lackadaisical when it comes to any game, as long as I can slack off enough...but for me, man, that's actually kind of hard. So being told, up front, to relax? Whew.
And -- okay. Here's a big thing about how I approach gamemastering and creative projects as a whole: with a mess of impressions and sensations, of colors and motion, an idea of how it should feel more than what it's about. In fact, the process of transforming that nimbus of abstractions into something structured is what frustrates me and gets me in trouble. It's one of the reasons that my cyberpunk stuff started taking form almost twenty years ago, but only recently has begun to condense into something that can actually be a roleplaying game that someone other than me can play and run, and I can barely do that. So the explicit reassurance that, dude, you must chill, is major.
But later in that same page, Dungeon World drops the big one:
The one thing you absolutely can't bring to the table is a planned storyline or plot. You don't know the heroes or the world before you sit down to play so planning anything concrete is just going to frustrate you.
Yes, I am the author of The Adventure Funnel, the most awesome adventure creation tool ever in the history of things, apparently. But I pounded it out blindly out of that very same frustration -- out of the need to have something to focus all that swirling whatever up in my noggin. And in fact, as of late, I've been relying less on my own brilliant creation and more on wild improvisation, on picking up cues from the players, of making it all up as I go along.
Which is exactly what Dungeon World assumes you're gonna do, first time out.
See, 'cause I'm a perfectionist and stuff. So I hold myself to this standard, see, where if I have to do something for a game, I have to do it right, and in my twisty-turny think-pipes, that gets perverted into 'I have to make an effort to create something badass that my players will enjoy AND which will satisfy my need for being all awesome and stuff'. But Dungeon World, again, assumes that I don't have to bust my ass on that. Hell, it assumes that I can show up at the table with no more of an idea than "OH SHIT GOBLINS" and that I, and my players, can roll with that.
To drive the point home, Dungeon World gives the GM an agenda to follow (more on that a little bit later), and one of the items on that agenda is "Play to see what happens".
Can I do that in any other game? Yeah. I've kind of been doing that since Theatrix back in the 90s. So it's not like Dungeon World is some kind of magical game that does what nothing else can. Rather, it's how it does what it does, and how it encourages me to do it, that trips my trigger; it comes right out and says, "Whaaat...? Pssssh, man, just siddown and see what happens. Relax, dude."
One might say it's less "Hipster D&D" and more "Slacker D&D".
|"Low pre-ep! Low pre-ep!"|
But -- ! Once the fire's on and the pots are boiling, what do you do? Well, as it turns out --
IT BREAKS STORY CRAFTING DOWN TO ITS BASICS (EVEN THOUGH IT CAN ALSO BE DAMNED CONFUSING TO READ AT TIMES)
I take pride in my ability to improvise. While it's easy to riff off of each other and inject whatever goofular idea you may have, it's another thing altogether to make it into a coherent story that makes some kind of sense. I'm good at that. I can feel my way through a story with the best of them; I've got a knack for pacing and for dramatic timing, and the ebb and flow of a story is second nature to me. Lest you think me a boast, know you this: many are the times when I know that a story should move in a certain direction, but damned if I know how to make that move. Then, I go DURRRRRRRR and pee my pants.*
Enter Dungeon World's GM Moves and Fronts.
Now...a quick aside, here. There are actually a couple of things that bug me about this game, and one is relevant at the moment. Dungeon World seems, at times, to be enamored of its own jargon. Look, man, every game has its jargon -- you got your THAC0s and your Rounds and Phases and Hit Dice and yadda-yadda-blah going back to when avocado and gold were legit interior decoration choices, all the way up to your Spends and your Aspects and your Assets and whaaa-bluhh-bleeee-blopp. Thing is, though, that in Dungeon World, some of that jargon comes across as nebulous at best, and silly and self-indulgent at worst.
Until you figure out why a Move is called a Move despite having nothing to do with actual movement, for instance.
Central to the game is this concept of Moves. Each character class has Moves, but they're not, like, dance moves or ground speed or whatever -- they're more like abilities, only sometimes they're actions and sometimes they're powers and sometimes they're your spellbook. The GM also has Moves, and those can be hard or soft, like you're at Taco Bell or something. (More on menus later.) Oh, and then when characters go into town, they have Moves then, too.Plus also, there are basic Moves that anyone can do, and those, too, are actions -- except when they're not, only they are, but it's hard to --
WHAT THE FUCK ARE "MOVES", EUGENE?!
Here's how I figured it out, just today: Imagine yourself in a purely real-world situation, and something needs to be done to effect a result. Maybe you and your boss are discussing a particular sales account, one which you might lose because, I dunno, the client wants a cheaper, imported dog polisher or whatever it is you sell, and you're wondering what...thing you should take to keep the sale. It could be that you are young and in love, and the object of your affection shows interest in you -- but it's up to you to make the next...thing. Or perhaps you are RoboCop, responding to a 415 in progress at 3rd Street and Nash Avenue, and having just shot a woman's would-be assailant in the crotch, you advise his fellow creep that it's his --
DAMN IT JUST SAY A "MOVE" IS A THING YOU DO TO GET A RESULT DAMN IT
|"Taken Out or at =>1 HP, you're coming with me!"|
...so anyway, GM "Moves" are things you do to move the plot along. They're codified into the game, and they have their own names, even -- almost like they're specific subroutines in a greater dynamic whole, discernible one from the other, each with a specific result or effect.
Now...that's not to say that Dungeon World thinks you're stupid, and that you need to be shown what to do next. No, no, no. Rather -and this is purely speculative on my part, but it's one of the ways that the game plugged into my thought process so well- it shows you these "moves" as a way of mapping out for you how stories are built. In other words, no matter how bad you think you are at improv or how much you panic and freeze up or how many bullets you've just taken in the nuts, you always have a handy prompt so you can keep building a good, satisfying story.
So that's GM Moves, so now let's talk about Fronts. At first. "Front" seems like pretentious-ass hippie-talk for "adventure", but it's kind of justified by the term's meaning in context: they're "fronts" as in "fighting on multiple _____". I woulda just called 'em what they are, which is Big Stacks Of Trouble.
[Another aside: changing jargon in indie games is getting to be a habit of mine. You know how in Fate, when you beat the difficulty by 3 or more, you are said to 'Succeed with Style'? Nuh-uh. In my game, if you beat the difficulty by 3 or more, you Are Badass. "I'm gonna jump off the bridge and land on the speeder bike!" "Roll Athletics, Great difficulty!" "My result is -- Legendary! I AM BADASS!" That's more my style.]
So Fronts, aka Big Stacks of Trouble, are no more or less than a structure for defining, managing and implementing the events and forces that oppose your players and would mess things up if not for, you know, the heroes of your game/story. Not only do Fr-- uh, Big Stacks of Trouble guide you in creating sensible threats by querying you for all the broad details you need to make things go boink, they also --
-- and this is what really, REALLY caught my eye --
-- give you suggestions on what kinds of goals are common for the opposing forces to have, and things that said forces might do to achieve these goals.
Look, man, I get stymied a lot, doing this kind of thing. I might know that I want my Night's Black Agents scenario to include, say, a reality TV star who is secretly a vampire with an honest-to-goodness murder castle in the suburbs of Madrid, but when it's time to look past the excitement of such a notion and decide on said bad guy's motivations and place in a story and whether or not any of it makes story-sense, I frrrrrrreeze right up, thinking I'm in over my head because I don't really know what I'm doing.
Dungeon World's "Fronts" system helps me, or you, or someone else who thinks waaaay too hard about stuff, to get over it and just pick something from the menu already.
Oh, yeah...I mentioned menus. Well...
...Man, I'm getting sleepy. I've got more to say, though. Come back tomorrow.