Saturday, 25 June 2016

Free RPG Day and Dungeon World

Dungeon World - a nice surprise
Saturday was Free RPG Day. I've read a great deal about it, but this was the first time I have had the opportunity to actually turn up to a store that was actually running it. I went down to Dice Saloon in Brighton, which is a very nice venue for gaming, hanging out and drinking coffee (they also do nice toasted paninis). For the most part, Dice Saloon focuses on board games, Magic the Gathering, and some of the more popular miniatures games (e.g. Age of Sigmar and War Machine). However, on the 18th of June it hosted several RPGs in three slots, kicking off at 12.00 noon. Sadly, I didn't have time to stay all the way through to 11 in the evening, but I did book myself into a game of Dungeon World.

When I turned up, I also asked one of the guys working in the store whether there was any free swag. "Oh yes," he said, and reached under the desk to produce a huge box full of free RPG goodies. "Take whatever you want," he added, and left me to rummage through it.

This I duly did, scooping up a big pile of swag. Most of it is one-shot adventures, but there is some excellent material here, including previews of the Atlantis the Second Age role playing game, the Thule campaign setting (with a one shot for Dungeons and Dragons), the Faith science fiction RPG / card game hybrid, a one shot for Night's Black Agents, and even a Feng Shui adventure. I also managed to grab some Reaper bones. My cup runneth over, as my school chaplain used to say. I'm still sorting through everything I picked up.

As for Dungeon World, the game was surprising well-attended, with all slots filled and THREE spectators. I felt like I was playing blackjack in Vegas. At an adjoining table, there were three slots free in a Pathfinder game, but it was standing room only at Dungeon World.

I wanted to play Dungeon World because I have been hearing all sorts of amazing things about the system, originally given life with Apocalypse World. I have even bought Monster of the Week with a view to trying that out. My problem with any new system, and it was certainly the case with Savage Worlds and Gumshoe, is that I need to play the game or listen to it being played to really get a good grasp of it. I have listened to the guys at RPPR play MOTW in an actual play podcast, but I wanted to sit down and have a go at actually playing Dungeon World.

I have to say I was favourably impressed and can now see what all the fuss was about. The game presents pretty much all a player needs on four sides of A4, of which two are your character sheet (i.e. you never need to refer to the rule book as a player). It is very easy for newcomers to grasp. It is cheap to access - with only one book you are up and running, as are your friends. You don't need everyone to own an expensive hardback book. Character generation is very speedy, with a range of options presented on your sheet to choose from. It took us 15 minutes maximum to get a party together, with only one player having played DW previously.

The game features a mechanic called 'bonds' which really ties the party together. You have suggested bonds to one or more members of your party. For example, my barbarian, Bonebreaker, was worried about the risks the druid was taking and wanted to try to keep him out of trouble (with limited success, as it turned out, as the druid was burned to a crisp by a goblin shaman). Players introduce their characters, after which they go around the table again, using the bond options on their sheets to link themselves to the other PCs.

Each character has all his equipment packages presented up front - you just need to tick what you want. You can add important kit as you go along. Encumbrance is a factor, but it is highly simplified, although still relevant.

The core of the system is 'moves': some are specific to your character, some are generic. They help you to really feel you are playing your persona. For example, my barbarian had a move that kicked in if he was fulfilling one from a list of barbaric urges (pure destruction and the quest for fame and fortune being the obvious ones I opted for). You roll 2d6 and adjust according to bonuses which might be in place at the time. Some accrue to your rolls, some are simply added to your damage. On a result of 10+ you succeed, at 7-9 you succeed, but with consequences, and at 6 or less, something bad happens. When in a battle, that something bad is frequently being hit by the other side. The GM never rolls dice. If you fail to hit an enemy, he hits you. You then roll the damage and apply it to yourself. This is quite a revolutionary concept, but it does produce entertaining combats that are a far cry from the slugfests of Pathfinder.

For example, we had a fight with goblins (who I think were intended to chase us into a magic portal), which saw a paladin wrestling on the floor with one goblin, my barbarian tripping over them, and then being swarmed by four others (using his war cry move to distract them from the paladin), while the druid ended up knocking over the goblin shaman, causing his spell to go awry, but taking most of its damage to his face. All good clean fun.

Weapons have distinguishing characteristics, like 'messy' (my battle axe), which was able to dish out gratuitous damage to the goblins, but later in the game was used to partly block a spell cast against the party's bard by a lich we were hunting. Battles seem to go very smoothly in Dungeon World. There is very little nitty gritty involving attacks of opportunity, movement rates, flanking, etc. Plus, the characters also have moves obviously designed to reflect their lives and activities outside combat, which is always a selling point for me.

The templates for characters are not rigid - the options provide players with the opportunity to customise characters, while it still feels like the sort of persona you would expect for a barbarian or a ranger, for example. XP is earned by failing tasks, rather than succeeding in them, and 'levelling up' is also very simple - just add a new move from your menu once you reach 8 XP.

Like Gumshoe or Trail of Cthulhu, Dungeon World is one of those games which you really need to see played before the light comes on. It took me ages to get my head around Gumshoe, but once I did, I began to realise I would probably never go back to running Call of Cthulhu. I suspect Dungeon World may be another example of this. Part of its strength is its accessibility to newcomers to role playing, the way it can get people up and running very quickly with very little rules explanation. This is why it is winning so many recruits among younger gamers - there are no massive tomes to leaf through. Older gamers may be used to hefty rules tomes as the barrier to entry, but not necessarily younger newcomers. Around our table, there were three of us over 40, and the rest I would say were in their twenties, including the GM.

Dungeon World does not feel like a war game or a miniatures game. It is a role playing game, adopting many of the fun aspects of Dungeons and Dragons, but not getting bogged down in the number crunching. It is drawing new blood into the hobby, and this can only be a good thing. Give it a go if you get the chance.


  1. Sounds interesting. Can you run some at some point? Assuming that you have not left the country by then?

  2. 1) What happens if your bond is no longer relevant? For example, the druid you were protecting was killed, so did you pick a new bond, or was your current bond amended?

    2) Are the moves limiting? What happens if you try to do something not covered by one of your moves? Is it impossible for you to attempt?

  3. I like the sound of that, will have to look out for it.