One of the issues I’ve always had with most game systems is that one player that absolutely insists on being ‘oogie’.

One of the issues I’ve always had with most game systems is that one player that absolutely insists on being ‘oogie’.

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.  

8 thoughts on “One of the issues I’ve always had with most game systems is that one player that absolutely insists on being ‘oogie’.”

  1. There’s an explicit difference between how D&D explains how to GM a game to how Dungeon World (and Apocalypse World) explain how to GM. Traditional RPGs always ask that the GM lay out a storyline or a setting and instruct the GM on how to present the story/setting to the players, almost like fishing in a stream since you want the players to follow the story or explore the setting. But DW/AW tells you straight out to play to find out what happens, and all of the principles and rules of GMing naturally swell out of this philosophy that the GM is not really in control but is simply there to make life interesting for the players, who are at times given much more freedom than they are usually accustomed to.

    This “play to find out” philosophy means that you can have evil characters next to good ones, and they basically function together or go their separate ways, but there is never any requirement to reign in the evil character in order to follow a plot or preserve a locale. Why not? Every locale is a target for the GM, and every plot is organically drawn out of the playing itself. If an evil character goes off to kill some peasants then that’s what the plot becomes and the GM rules have massaged that massacre into something interesting. Possibly even dangerous since the rules system itself gives the GM leverage over the character and the action if partial successes or failures are rolled during play.

    This “play to find out” philosophy is what makes these games so enjoyable, and I’m finding that I may never approach GMing another system the same way ever again because of how it was presented in Apocalypse World (and by association, Dungeon World).

  2. I’m with you on that – after my experience GMing this first game?  I don’t think I’ll do any system my ‘old way’.

    Nope.  Not a chance.

    It’s worth saying that ‘one-shots’ of DW are not equivalent to a campaign, either.  I had fun, playing with the rules, coming to understand GM moves  – but there’s a vast difference.  My players were seriously engaged in ways I just didn’t expect, and that weren’t present in the one-shots.

  3. Patrick Henry Downs  – the hardest thing for me to communicate to my players was the notion of the lack of initiative order.

    These guys are old-school gamers – they’re just.. really used to the idea of turn-based, strictly regimented combat.    I had to break the ideal of not really revealing your moves, as a GM (I never named them, no!  But I did have to explain what the shape of an action was!) for them to finally break the old paradigm.

    I highly recommend tossing out the idea – if you’ve got old-school players – that a ‘move’ that they do consists of all three parts:  their fiction, their die roll, and your description of its outcome/your reaction to it.   It took ’em a bit to understand that my reaction was fundamental to their moves – even if that reaction was to ‘pass’ to another player.

    That was the hard bit. I also found that I needed to occasionaly throw the ball straight at my quieter players (which drew drama) – and that had the /secondary/ effect of having everyone paying attention to combat the entire time.

    I have seriously never – not in a decade of GMing – had players /this/ into and excited about both combat and the arpeez; usually I get a group that tunes in for one, and a different group for the system stuff.  Now?  It’s just a seamless, crazy blend.

    Most fun I’ve had as a GM in years.

  4. My group is also that kind of setup, and the initiative part was actually surprising to me, because they never asked to roll for it, they went with how I narrated things and the game flowed from there. Dungeon World changed how I GM, for sure, but also made me a lot more demanding when it comes down to how much time the system spends of my prep time.

    I am hoping that it changes my gaming group too, I believe it already has, but will only know for real when I go to the player’s seat and someone else is GMing, we rotate a lot in my group so that will happen… eventually, right now they want more DW. 😉

  5. That was really inspiring to read. I have that one player who also likes to play characters who go against the grain. They are not evil per se, but they are often the antithesis to the rest of the party. It hasn’t disturbed play much yet, but it’s often hard to handle.

    Reading this, though, makes me really happy. It’s great to see how your group makes this clearly evil character work, and how he actually contributes to the general awesomeness of the game. I wish you and your group the best with him. Keep us posted! 😀

Comments are closed.