#dungeonworld #apocworld #tabletop #rpg
First session of Dungeon World.
elly fong-jones (me), the GM
Liz Fong-Jones (as Katya)
Colin McMillen (as Aranwe)
Olivia Schaefer (as Brianne)
I’ve decided to go absolutely full-on narrativist with this game, and hence have come to it with zero thoughts about the world or its overarching structure or problems (this is also a really handy excuse if you’re lazy). I show up basically empty-handed except for the book and blank character sheets for all the classes, as well as a bunch of basic move sheets – and, of course, I have my book of names, just in case.
I start off with a question: what kind of game do people want to play? Do we want to be politicking in the magical equivalent of 15th-century Italy, or do we just want to come home, wipe the kobold blood off our armor, and get some rest before we do it again the next day? Are we interested in delving for forgotten treasures, or would we rather sample the delights of modern civilization? Backwoods village or glittering metropolis? Desert? Boats? Temperate?
All three players are absolutely adamant that we not play a desert game (entirely fair, in my opinion, since the last time I ran a game with these players it was a D&D 3.5 game set in a desert, and was a particularly brutal introduction to that game’s combat mechanics and general feel) and that we not do too much messing about with boats. I’m fine with both of these. We eventually settle that we want a wilderness-heavy exploration/combat campaign – puzzles, a few traps, that sort of thing.
Once we’ve decided that, I ask people what sort of story we want to tell. Liz suggests that something evil’s corrupting the world, and after we toss a bunch of ideas around, we eventually settle on that we come to call a “peak magic” scenario – for no known reason, magic has started to “leak” out of the world, causing magical effects to start to slowly fail, with widespread disastrous effects. We’re also using a rough ripoff of the “default” 3.5 setting, so civilization exists only inside the walls of the larger towns, with the rest of the world largely wild and unexplored. As we’ve been deciding this, I’ve asked people to think about what classes they might be interested in. Liz has settled on Cleric, Olivia on Fighter, and Colin eventually decides on Ranger, to fit in with the wilderness theme.
I put the question to them: okay, why are you guys together? We start having a lot of back and forth about why their characters all care about the same thing, which also starts to get little bits of their backstories coalescing into existence.
Liz ends up playing Katya, a (somewhat naive) cleric of a deity of education (as yet unnamed). Katya’s order considers it a religious duty to educate the people of her home town (also as yet unnamed) on the “safe” use of magic; in their view, the cause of “peak magic” is that someone, somewhere, has been using magic in a vastly unsafe manner. Katya herself is an investigator, dispatched by the church council to check out a strange lake to the northwest.
Colin ends up with Aranwe (sp?), a veteran ranger who has lived in the deep forest his entire life. Raised by a single father, he is deeply uncomfortable around large concentrations of people, and seems reluctant around the other two characters. He dedicates his life to the protection of the balance of the forest’s many lifecycles; he is curious about (and disturbed by) the effects the loss of magic is having. He has a companion wolf called Fang.
Olivia rolls up Brianne, a young fighter. Brianne was a peasant child of peasant parents, raised in a small mining town far off on the northeast shore of the continent. At night (she says) a chill, unnatural wind used to blow through the town, snuffing out any lights, save those provided by magic; as the magic began to fade, the town began to be left in darkness at night, and people began to… disappear. Panic set in, and the town essentially dissolved in the span of weeks, casting the remaining inhabitants out into the wilderness, whence few were seen again. Brianne owes her survival to a curious quirk – areas of her skin glow with a pale magical light, and this was evidently enough to keep whatever lives in the dark at bay. She was found alone and disoriented in the woods near her home town by a group of mercenaries hired to find out why trade with the town had stopped, and taken back to the city-state they came from. There she found herself invited to join them – but not as a warrior as she’d hoped; instead, she was given the position of quartermaster and navigator for one of their squadrons.
Once we’ve decided who we are, we quickly allocate stats, choose gear, and do all the other mechanical setup – it takes like ten minutes tops, and none of us has ever done it before, although we’re all experienced players of other RPGs. With that done, we discuss how the characters met, and we conclude that Aranwe found Katya lost in the forest (attempting to navigate with an extremely old, inaccurate map) and was guiding her to her destination when they heard Brianne’s squadron being massacred by an unnatural assault by wolves.
I drop the characters right into the action; Aranwe and Katya hear the sounds of a battle somewhat off the track, and they run up to the edge of a small ravine only to see Brianne, already somewhat wounded, surrounded at some distance by a half dozen wolves, her six squadmates (and three wolves) dead around her. Katya immediately jumps down to render aid, right as the wolves decide to close in and attempt to box Katya and Brianne in. Aranwe calmly fires at one of the wolves, aiming for one of its legs, and succeeds in crippling it; Fang jumps down to defend Brianne and Katya. As the wolves close in, Katya swiftly ducks around them, freeing herself from the trap and leaving Brianne and Fang to face down the five remaining wolves. Olivia decides (us not having decided yet) that Brianne’s signature weapon will be her fists, so she fights unarmed (this fits in well with the angle of her not being respected by the rest of her squadron). A brutal fight sees Brianne and Katya both badly wounded, but all five remaining wolves killed, thanks to expert brawling from Brianne and accurate sniping from Aranwe. Katya, quite badly injured, decides to try to heal herself, but the healing spell goes awry, inflicting further harm; she tries once again, and again she fails, and this time forgets the spell (hence requiring her to re-prepare it after sleeping) as well as inflicting harm on herself.
Katya, now critically wounded, wants to rest and make camp here, but Aranwe knows of a small sheltered hut about an hour’s travel to the north, and encourages the group to move. As they begin to move, Fang begins to growl and sniff the air apprehensively; Amanwe deduces that the sent of the wolves’ blood (much of which is still clinging to Brianne and Katya) is drawing a Thrinax, a colossal armored carnivore that has wolves as its favorite prey. Their best way to safety is to climb, so they quickly scale the largest nearby tree, but in their haste Aranwe drops his shortsword and Katya drops her staff. We end the session with the characters clinging to branches, the thrinax sniffing around at the base and pawing at the tree.
All in all, a really excellent game. Combat flows really nicely; there’s just enough rules to keep it from being Apocalypse World-style “I shoot him.” “Okay, he dies.” back-and-forth, but not so much that it starts to impede the narrative structure of what’s going on with table lookups and references to manuals. Even though none of us had played before, we were able to keep the game going with minimal references to the rules. In retrospect, it was probably one of the best RPG sessions I’ve ever run of any system, which is especially impressive considering that I had done literally zero prep work.
A+ game. Highly recommended.