Evan Moses

My blog and projects

Dungeon World: My first pen-and-paper RPG

To start out, I’ve got a  confession to make:  I’m a pretty big nerd.  I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  I also like games, which might be a little easier to swallow.  Beyond the tabletop board and card games I’ve been writing about here, I’m also a fan of video games, and in particular adventure and RPG games.  Which leads me to a more legitimately shocking confession:  I have never in my life played a Dungeons and Dragons style pen-and-paper role-playing game.  It’s a gap in my record, a ding on my nerd score sheet, the same way that not being able to drive stick cost me man points.1

So, when my friend Max posted that he was planning on starting up a regular game of an RPG called Dungeon World, I jumped at the chance.  Given my virgin status, all comparisons I make to D&D or other RPGs are going to be based on hearsay or analogies to video games.  That said, I understand that Dungeon World is less heavily rule-, dice- and stats-based than D&D, with more time spent on collaborative storytelling and world building.  Stats are relatively simple, and basically only serve to modify various dice rolls.  The basics of the world and characters are very similar, with familiar fantasy races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling), and character classes (Paladin, Cleric, Warrior, Ranger, Wizard, Thief, etc.) with a few minor variations, such as a Druid that’s one with the Land and able to shapeshift into that Land’s creatures.  If you want more specifics, check out their website.

We were a group of Max’s friends who knew Max but didn’t necessarily know each other, so we spent a decent amount of our first session just hanging out a bit, and another hour or so creating our characters.  Character creation in Dungeon world consists of choosing a class, and then making a series of multiple-choice decisions about the character.  I was a Wizard named Avon, so I had to choose whether I was Elf or Human (Human), some basic physical description (sharp eyes, smooth hair, pudgy body), Alignment (Good, Neutral, Evil, I chose Neutral), which spells and gear I start with,  and assigning 6 stats to 6 slots (the wizard has 16, 15, 13, 12, 9, 8 and any number can go to any stat).

Most interestingly, each character creates Bonds with the other characters.  There are some canned suggestions, although you’re free to improvise.  In my case, I  thought that the Bard was hiding a secret, and that the forest elf Ranger was “woefully misinformed about the world; I will teach them all I can”.  When Bonds are resolved in the opinion of the players and GM, they count as XP.

Three of the party members had started an adventure previously with Max, so already had their characters together, but our party of 6 (7 if you count the Ranger’s bear companion) continued it with some handwaving about how exactly we all ended up together, some of which was filled in as backstory as we went.  We introduced our characters to each other, and with fairly little ceremony, we started in on our quest, arriving a heavily fortified village on the shore of a northern sea.

I won’t give a play-by-play of our whole session, but it involved a Bad Dude named Jarl Vater with his 9 immortal warriors (or are they immortal?), some scary sounding wind elementals we haven’t actually encountered yet, and strangers suspicious of our band. I spectacularly fouled up our first interaction by throwing a bad dice roll and failing to Charm the gate guard, although it was salvaged by our very intense and earnest Paladin.  Our Druid was incredibly useful, turning into various animals (a cat, a seagull, a hawk), allowing us to scout by land and air, and most importantly risking herself as a hawk to stoop down and retrieve some plans that the immortal warriors were holding.  Working together, we managed to kill two of the “immortals”, who didn’t live up to their name (heh).

That was as far as we got in our first session, and it was incredibly fun.  Although I can’t compare him to others, Max was clearly a skilled GM:  he encouraged us to fill in our characters’ stories, to interact with the NPCs and each other, moved things along when they slowed, and took plenty of time with the more adrenaline-filled bits (fights, risky moves, etc).  There are mysteries to uncover: who or what is this Jarl Vater?What’s his connection, if any, to the wind sprites?  There are choices to make: help the town under attack, or skitter off while the “immortals” are busy raiding it so hopefully the Jarl will be unprotected.  Hopefully there’s loot to be had.  I look forward to continuing the quest.

Most of all, I really enjoyed the freedom that the format has compared to cRPGs.  On a computer game, you’re limited to solutions that the programmers thought of first.  I’ve got a big-ass fireball, and that rabbit holding the golden key just dove under a bush, but I can’t set the bush on fire to smoke it out.  In this game, you can try anything you can think of, and it’s up to you, your party-mates, and the GM to decide what happens.

  1. I recently leveled up in that skill. Thanks Sus! ↩︎