One of the issues I’ve always had with most game systems is that one player that absolutely insists on being ‘oogie’. You know the one: “Oh, c’mon, why CAN’T I play the evil-necromancer-who-eats-the-souls-of-children? Really, I can get along!”
This sort of problem player – in most other games – is a real problem; even if you let ’em put together a non-oogie character, they generally still look for every opportunity to act out their impulse toward mayhem and viciousness. These are the people that, in the somewhat-famous words of Sapphire, from The Gamers: Dorkness Rising “[aren’t] evil, they’re chaotic neutral!” and have fun blowing up peasants that annoy ’em.
My new DungeonWorld campaign kicked off yesterday, and I must admit a certain set of misgivings when I started without training wheels: I sat my players down at the table and gave them only three expectations:
– There could (of course) be only ONE of a given class.
– They have to, when they’re finished, have a coherent group – it doesn’t have to be a group of happy, lovey-dovey, considerate model citizens, but it does have to be a group that can and will adventure together in a way that will allow them to turn their backs on each other.
– They must make at least one non-mutual bond.
The very first question I get asked? “Do I have to be ‘good’?”
Oh, you folks don’t know the temptation that welled up in me to say ‘yes’. But, walking into this, I’d decided early on that this game would be one without ‘training wheels’; I’ve got a good group of (mostly) mature players, a brand-new, very free-form system, and I’ve had good luck in my one-offs before.
Taking a deep breath, I said ‘no, but you do have to go with the alignment selections you’re offered’.
What followed was one of the best ‘first game’ sessions I’ve ever run. I could wax rhapsodic about the flow of combat, or how fast my players picked up on just how much latitude they really had. I could list you the questions I used at chargen – (My personal favorites? “You have a ‘blankie’, or other child’s toy or security object. Is it yours? What is its story?” and “One of you has a pet – not an animal companion like the ranger – but a pet that you love and knows a few simple tricks that stop just shy of ‘fetch’. (Play dead, roll over, shake? Acceptable. 🙂 ) What kind of pet is it, what’s it’s name, and how did you end up with it in the middle of a battlefield?”)
Instead? I’m going to tell you only one thing: I have an evil cleric of the God of Suffering in my party, who was not only not the usual disruptive influence such a cleric usually is, but who brought conflict, fun, and more than a few great moments to the gaming group without once compromising her character.
Dungeon World gave a character with selfish motivations room to breathe – and the bonds ensured that the character could be part of this adventuring group without requiring the usual hawkish caution on the part of the GM. When her sudden, yet inevetable betrayal comes? We’re even ready to handle it – and the group is already throwing out ideas about how cool it could be.
What can I say? This hasn’t happened in any other system I’ve ever played or GM’d – and it’s a refreshing, remarkable thing to see.