At Big Bad Con, I was hanging out with the LA Quartet — Andrew Linstrom, Colin Jessup, Hamish Cameron, Morgan Ellis — and we were about to play a wacky little hack of Dungeon World run by Colin. We’ve been talking off and on, in person and online, about the XP issue with Dungeon World. When that came up in this game, well, here’s roughly the exchange:
Colin: So, highlighting. I was thinking the “highest/lowest” stat way.
Hamish: Man, I fucking hate that.
Me: Meh, it’s not like highlighting works anyway.
Colin/Others: Well, I think it can.
Me: [wanting to get back to the game] Well, fuck it, let’s try this…
I took a piece of paper and wrote down six things. I handed it to him, saying “Stats don’t work. Folks who talk about highlighting decision points or different phases of an adventure don’t get it. Let’s just do this and move on.”
Colin’s face lit up. On that piece of paper, I wrote:
I wasn’t sure if it’d work, but it was closer to Apocalypse World’s feel, in that each stat has a vibe to it, and in DW that gets muddled.
Attack covers moves that intend to damage someone else: Hack and Slash, Volley, wizard spells, whatever. Doesn’t matter with what.
Stunt covers doing crazy shit in order to actively survive or gain position…in other words, Defy Danger.
Defend covers keeping others from harm as well as coping with grievous sitautions: Defend, Saving Throw, healing moves, etc.
Discover covers moves that add information, like Spout Lore or Discern Realities. The Cleric’s move that ask questions of the dead also works, etc.
Converse covers interpersonal actions, like Parley.
Aid/Interfere covers doing an Aid or Interfere move with another PC.
(Initially, I didn’t write down “Aid/Interfere” until toward the end of the session. And really, I just wrote down “Aid.” The “/Interfere” part came as I thought about it later.)
It was a decision that we could do, and it was quick. We went around the table, introduced ourselves, and the someone else per DW rules picked a highlight.
Andrew played a psychic minister who could project walls of force. His moves to create walls of force that have hold to project others was a Defend move, so I was all over highlighting his Defend. His Attack was also highlighted.
Hamish played a swarm of cats that…fuck, I can’t remember all of his badassitude, but he was pretty cool. I will always forever treasure my relationship with Meow Mix. Because he could split off into different places and he had decent Wisdom, someone highlighted his Discover. His Attack was also highlighted, I think.
Morgan was playing a giant demolition robot, and we were joking about the Converse highlight, saying “Who the fuck would want to highlight Converse?” Colin laughed, so after someone highlighted his Attack, Colin said “Yeah, I totally want to see you as a giant robot try to talk your way through. Converse.” (There was totally an implicit “…motherfucker there.”)
I was playing a fucking gargoyle — a seismic hawkoid — named Church. I had a plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range, and I was all about using my Death From Above move. They wanted to see me fly and get all aerial crazy, so my Stunt was highlighted. As was my Attack. We all had Attack highlighted.
We took a moment and pondered that we were suddenly shifting to more AW-esque language. “I want to see you do X, so I highlight Y.” That language felt lacking in DW. Already, we’re jazzed because I know that folks want me to get all tricked out-crazy with Defying Danger at every turn. Morgan internalized Converse to mean that his robot was “a robot of the people,” and he kept trying Parley when we faced down other robots. “My brothers! Let us not fight!” (His CHA was shit, so it didn’t really work, but it was pretty fucking memorable.)
There’s something about highlighting parallel intent that makes it work.
Parallel: things that we can all do at the same given moment. Part of the issue with some other suggestions is that they weren’t parallel — if you could only highlight something like “I get treasure,” and I have “I hit a thing” highlighted, these aren’t parallel.
Intent: saying “I want you to use a stat” is not inspiring language. Saying “I want to see you do X” is. By communicating & pushing forward that, you charge the engine of the game. In AW, intent & stat are intertwined. Here, they aren’t, since multiple stats can serve the same intent and a stat can serve dramatically different intents.
And it sung, not despite but because of the highlighting. The game was amazing. Andrew’s psychic preacher was Defending, my gargoyle was charging forward with one of Meow Mix on my shoulder to spot things, and Morgan’s robot was regretfully punching out his brothers in sheet metal after they failed to see the wisdom of his words. We were doing what we all wanted to see, and getting juice for it.
We ran a short adventure, maybe a couple hours. By the end of it, we were all at or just about to hit Level 2, within 2 XP of each other. Parallelism at work, baby. We walked away thinking that this had promise to it. It was natural to highlight Attack this session, but I think that’s in line with the whole “highlighting the core stat the first time” thing. I haven’t had a chance to try this since, and I don’t know how well it’ll work out in multi-session play. But that’s what further play is for, and this idea warrants it.
(And yes, I’m willing to say that I was wrote to entirely dismiss Highlighting in DW. Though, looking out of the box is what sparked the experiment in the first place, so there’s always fruit in that.)
I look forward to seeing what the LA Quartet do with this. And I’ll be running Dungeon World on this Sunday at the EndGame Mini-con, and I’ll be using this there.
 Why, did I just reveal something? Perhaps I did…