Posts Tagged ‘dungeon world’
I’ve been toying with Psychopaths & Phylacteries off and on over the last few months. I’ve been happy with some of the character creation ideas, but not really with the overall engine.
I realized that because for the social footprint I want P&P to slot into, I like Dungeon World’s engine. So, for the moment, I’m fucking with P&P as a Dungeon World hack. And that’s lead me to seriously ponder what’s core to a *Word game, and what’s just common trappings people dig. Here’s the thing: there are people who have been hacking this system for longer than I have, so maybe I’m missing something.
Player moves: moves are key, definitely, but in a loose way. Player moves can be broken down into “[fictional trigger, player-narrated] [mechanical execution] [hard choices, sometimes] [fictional result, player-narrated or GM-narrated]” (I already wrote about this structure long ago.) This is the Otherkind dice mechanic, well refined.
GM moves: these are necessary to the structure of the current games, but I wonder how well it’ll map to a light-hearted game. And this is where I wonder if I like DW, but it’s not necessarily the right fit.
Some smart people have broken down GM moves, including John Harper and Jonathan Walton (who apparently wrote a bit I can’t quickly find about how the first step into a *W hack is to look at what the GM’s moves should model).
The GM not rolling dice: I don’t see this as inherent to the system, though it’s important that the GM never roll for moves. But then, Adam & Sage saw that too, as they shifted monster damage to die rolls.
Playbooks: Here’s where I may diverge from common thought — playbacks aren’t core to the experience. They’re a (if done well) decently presented package of character creation choices, current and future abilities, system-rewarded motivations, and shit like hit points. That they’re all separate, like the playbooks in AW or the classes in DW, is actually a setting component, not a system one.
Advancement: Advancement may not be inherently core, but it’s important to the P&P concept. And if you remove that, you end up with static characters, so perhaps the fundamental idea is core, just its execution may widely vary.
No rerolling: I’m not sure if this is core. It certainly reinforces flavors that Apocalypse World wants to push, and Dungeon World uses it to strong effect, but I wouldn’t say that this is a required element of the engine. That said, if you put any ability to reroll in, you seriously need to examine all of your math and reward choices.
I feel like maybe I’m missing something else. What do you think?
I was reading over some of the changes to Dungeon World sheets last night, and I came to a weird conclusion:
Dungeon World doesn’t want players like me.
That’s totally fair. So I’ll talk about that a bit. (And this is going to get ranty, which is probably best explained in the footnote.)
[Edit: The comments are awesome. And often saner, because it took a bit for me to calm down from the emotional element involved.]
To be fair, I had that reaction months ago when I heard that bonds became the XP mine. I shrugged, knowing the sort of play I have sen bonds produce, and stopped playing DW at conventions.
Ah, I have to back up a bit.
See, I play DW at conventions. Most of my play of any game is that, one-shot meetings, mini-cons, things like that. So I’m playing with potentially random people. When I’ve played DW, it’s been with the same character, Ben Demonslayer, my Jewish halfling fighter. Because of that, I’m nearly always the target of the Cleric’s “I’ll convert you” bond. I fucking hate that, because I can’t tell of the person I don’t know is either able to make that interesting or is looking for an excuse to be a cockbite.
And I’m really, really tired of the latter.
These bonds existed in the first version. But now they can’t just be ignored, because they’re incentivized. You can choose not to take a “dick bond”, but then your character is slightly less able to help or hinder her comrades (because bonds add to that roll) and have fewer points of growth, as bonds are an XP generator. The first part was always there. With the addition of the second part, I now see this:
If I’m going to play in a convention game, I can fully expect dick behavior, because the DM will explain that the game rewards playing to your bonds.
And this isn’t hypothetical. I have seen dick behavior from bonds played out.
I could still play with my friends, and may from time to time, because bonds aside, Dungeon World is pretty fun. And even though I helped come up with the BBC Highlighting method, I think I like the XP change in DW — it’s seems slower, paced, and steady. I can dig that.
And I can even dig the non-hateful bonds. But encouragement combined with a desire for back story means almost always that every bond is filled in.
The other somewhat interesting point is that if I, as a cleric, want to play a cleric of a god that doesn’t want to convert — because subverting tropes can be its own fun — then I’m mechanically a weaker character and have fewer points of growth. This has some implied setting: the gods of DW are only strong if they are push their followers to proselytize and crusade. The fictional fallout of taking three bonds rather than four.
Here’s a list of the dick bonds in 2.3 that I see:
- Bard: _______________ is often the butt of my jokes.
- Cleric: I am working on converting _______________ to my faith.
- Fighter: _______________ owes me their life, whether they admit it or not. (I have seen so much damned pointless bickering around this one. Dear fuck.)
- Paladin: _______________ ’ s misguided behavior endangers their very soul!
- Thief: I stole something from _______________. (Though, it’s not as bad as previous worded, if memory serves.)
I’m glad to see that the wizard’s most dickish one has been stricken.
Now, I do love, at times, playing antagonistic characters. But when I’m going to engage in that, I’m going to engage in a game that’s about that, not where that’s a near-vestigial aside. Games like Fiasco, Smallville, or Lady Blackbird.
And I could bring this up if I play DW again, but the thought of bringing that up Every. Single. Time I play is wearisome.
I find this interesting, because it’s a change in a game. I first really enjoyed DW, and this change makes me stand far clear of it, as if it’s toxic fallout.
 If I harp on that one, it’s because I cannot see that as anything but a vile, inhuman act of hatred. I’ve had people try to convert me hours after my grandmother’s funeral. It’s disgusting, and it’s something I keep having to see when I play DW. Which is part of why I stopped playing & running it. So the game involves a gigantic trigger for me, pretty much equivalent to me as some class having a bond about murder or sexual violence.
I half-like and half-hate Bonds in Dungeon World. Which is a bit funny, I guess, as I stole those for Mythender.
Here’s how Bonds work in Dungeon World: once you have all the characters, you fill in some statements on the sheet about your relationship or history with other characters. For the Fighter, these are:
- ______ owes me their life, whether they admit it or not.
- I have sworn to protect _______.
- I worry about the ability of ______ to survive the dungeon.
- ______ is soft, but I will make them hard like me.
I like the idea that we talk about & write down very brief moments of back story in our game, in order to bond the group. I find that makes play richer. And this has a mechanical benefit: for each time you write someone’s name down, when you help or hinder them, you get a +1 to your roll. So if The Wyrm owes me his life, I get +1 to help or interfere. If he also is soft, and I’ll make him hard like me, that’s +2. So there’s a mechanical benefit to these.
But man, do I really loathe some of them. And when you have characters swapping around — Ben Demonslayer’s been in four of five games with three different DMs in two different cities — it feels old. At this point, the “I have sworn to protect” is now “…because that’s who’s paying me.”
There are a couple bonds on other character sheets that bother the fuck out of me. The Thief has “______ and I are running a long con.” and the Cleric has “I will convert ______ to my religion.” The former just bores the ever-loving shit out of me. That’s not really a part of the game, but a pointless distraction from it that just involves two people possibly fucking over a third. The latter is a hot button that, when actually done in my presence not in a game, might cause me to punch you.
(There are some others, like the Wizard’s “_____ has been subject to my experiments”, that are equally meh for me.)
I played Dungeon World twice last weekend, both times run by Nora Last. The second time was with a totally different group, and I did my character in pen so I had to scratch out the Bonds section and write them all freehand. And that’s when I “cheated”…in the spirit of Apocalypse World.
See, there’s this idea that I’ve read quite a few people mention: if you don’t like the names on a playbook in Apocalypse World, you’re allowed to name yourself something different…as long as you just do it and don’t ask. If you have to ask, you can’t. It’s a weird microcultural element, and I can’t remember the first time I saw that, but it’s stuck in the back of my mind as part of the “alpha players can get away with shit” ethos.
So, as an alpha player, I pushed. I wrote my own bonds. Since I wasn’t just filling in blanks on a page (as they were scratched out), this was easy:
- ______ possesses a quality I am in awe of.
- ______ is my charge…as long as the coin flows.
- ______ owes me his life.
- ______ and I have broken liver. (Think “bread”, but, you know, liver-y.)
This isn’t much of a “cheat”, but it is bending the rules of Dungeon World, maybe. In any case, I write this post to say: hey, you, also do this. Take Bonds as inspiration, not as concrete direction. After all, this isn’t Apocalypse World, where a setup pointing at each other is necessary and desired for play.
 This isn’t a joke. When my grandmother died, a preacher decided to take that opportunity to talk to me about the glory of Jesus and how she’s saved and all that, knowing that I was then an atheist. That sort of opportunistic preying, which is far from exclusive to Baptist Christians, is one of the most dehumanizing things around. Which is why I don’t engage in conversion in my play.
 Because Ben Demonslayer is hardcore.
This past weekend, I was at JoshCon, the birthday house con run by my good friend Josh Rensch. It was an exciting, grand ol’ time, where we played games. The games I played all got hacked up, including Technoir & Dungeon World. I’ll blog later about hacking Technoir, but some folks expressed interested in what we’re doing with DW.
A number of people have been using my XP hack for Dungeon World, and Nora Last, looking to DM some Dungeon World at JoshCon, wanted to take it for a spin. As I listed off the options, I found myself saying “Let’s not use Aid/Hinder. It’s pretty weak.” So we didn’t.
Two characters had Converse highlighted, and after one of the fights, one of them wanted to Parley with the other to get him to do something. The details are fuzzy thanks to copious amounts of scotch, but what I remember was this:
The target of the Parley wanted to do an opposed roll, which we said was Hinder. I started thinking “man, he should be able to highlight tha…DUDE THAT’S CONVERSE HE SHOULD HIGHLIGHT THAT.”
I cannot recall if I was as loud as I imagine. Again, scotch. Anyway, I said “Mark XP. That’s totally converse,” and filed the thought away.
Then I emailed the co-creator of this XP hack, Colin Jessup, when my findings, to which he celebrated. It meant less work on our parts to make up new moves for Aid/Hinder in a hack we’re tinkering with.
Which means the new rule is: When you Aid or Hinder another PC, and the move you’re affecting is covered by one of your highlights, mark experience.
Then shit got interesting, because Nora took the hack in a different direction. Colin & I have build the idea as “moves have concrete highlights. X is Attack, Y is Defend, etc.” Spells and other “sub-moves” are split up appropriately.
Nora said “nah, I’m gonna interpret that on the fly.” Sometimes when Ben Demonslayer, my still-not-dead halfling fighter, did some crazy shit because Stunt is highlighted, Nora would check my intent. Sometimes, she would tell me that I wasn’t stunting, but defending, which I didn’t have highlighted. And that brought up some interesting thoughts.
I’m not sure if I like “open to interpretation,” partly because it means one more decision that has to be made in the flow of play. But it’s one I hadn’t considered until Nora did it. (Thankfully, I can tell Colin “you decide”. Design partners are awesome!)
She also challenged me, being a third level fighter, by not highlighting my Attack in one of the games I played. Which worked for me, because Ben had a good chance of surviving crazy shit. Level 1 characters are, by contrast, sweet sweet tasty death magnets.
That made me think about going easy on highlighting level 1 characters, so they have a chance to level. After that, change it up. That also supports the idea of platforms and tilts in stories, a la improv. It also goes into Carl Rigney’s philosophy on games where the first thing the players do should showcase competence, if the game is about that, as that first action will color expectations of that game & play session.
Finally, she did some awesome stuff with putting monster damage rolls in Dungeon World. That added some Push Your Luck style excitement, and I’m totally going to roll with that later.
Thank you, Nora, for being my guinea pig. Next up, getting crazy with Technoir…
 Hi, Jeremy.
 Hi, Nora.
 Hi, attempt at comedy.
Writing about Dungeon World in my 2011 round-up post made me think more about it. And if you listen to today’s Podge Cast episode where David Pinilla & I talk about hacking games, you’ll hear me spout forth love for Dungeon World. Oh, that reminds me…
I talk about hacking games on the Podge Cast! Also I hit on David. A lot. And I’m apparently an accidental dubstep DJ when my Skype goes to pot.
And you only have a couple days left to get your submission to me for Don’t Hack This Game! The pitch window closes on this Wednesday, January 4th, 2012. 11:59PM Pacific Time.
Back to Dungeon World
The way Dungeon World works in combat is interesting, because it puts everything on the player’s roll. If you do the Hack and Slash move, on a 6- you get fucked, a 7-9 you hit & get hit, and 10+ you hit without getting hit in return (or can boost damage in exchange for getting hit).
When a player damages someone, they roll damage dice. But when they’re hit, the DM just tells them the amount they take in damage. And the more I think about that, the more that feels flat. Recently in looking at board game mechanics & terminology, I have a better vocabulary for articulating that:
That removes a great deal of the Push Your Luck vibe that D&D and other games inherently have with random damage rolls. If I can determine whether or not I know getting less than 10 on 2d6 plus my stat will kill me for certain, there’s something uninteresting there. Like the way crap skill challenges can be run.
There’s nothing to say you can’t push the randomness back in. Give monsters variable dice. Don’t say that a monster hits with four points. Roll a d6, d8, d4+2, 2d4, whatever works. This is the sort of thing that could be tailored by level, naturally.
One of the elements to DW (and its predecessor Apocalypse World) has is that only the players roll dice. Now, I can take or leave that in design, so I don’t really care if it’s the DM rolling damage or the players forced to roll their own pain. Either way suits me fine enough.
Now that we’re rolling for damage, we’ve introduced Push Your Luck. Say you’ve got 5 hit points left, and you’ve discovered that the monster does 1d8 in damage. Well, now you can choose whether or not you’ll risk another straight-on Hack and Slash, or if you’ll try something else. If you know for sure that the monster does, say, 6 points of damage, you know you’re dead — there is little interesting choice there.
The other way makes sense when you have a game with six hit points, three of which are “and you’ll eventually get better on your own”. Not so much for a game of increasing hit points.
Anyway, once dice are added, if you want to add a bit of chaos, you could have monsters have custom hard moves that are triggered upon how those dice react. Like, say, having a giant slam a character across the field of battle when a 1 is rolled on damage. There is still the fiction-in-fiction-out elements: the giant is attacking & inflicting harm on the character, and the character is being hit across the field. The only thing added here is a sense of a critical effect against the character.
Maybe that’s too much to the hack, maybe not. I’m curious to try it out. As with many hack brainstorms, some ideas are shittier than they appear. But trying tells you something you didn’t know before about game design.
 Some will argue that “what about setting up a meaningful death”? Sure, but that requires actually setting something up. And using dice doesn’t remove or add to this element anymore than a fixed, known amount does.