So I’ve DMed a few Dungeon World one shots and I really like the game.

So I’ve DMed a few Dungeon World one shots and I really like the game.

So I’ve DMed a few Dungeon World one shots and I really like the game. It brings forth the good stuff about the dungeon fantasy genre, the stuff I see from the outside and say “Oh, that’s neat!”, and wraps it in an Apocalypse Worldy coating of awesome. It’s a great, focused adventure game with a ton of neat stuff. It’s probably going to be my go-to adventure game from now on.

However, I’m not really grokking the whole Dungeon premise. I come from a solidly story-gaming background, the first game I ever GMed was Fate. I’ve only ever touched D&D once, and that was 3rd edition — the system ended up scaring me away from touching the genre ever again, until now.

I don’t know if I’m not asking enough questions, or what, but the first session dungeon — all of my games have been one-shots, sadly — almost always turns into a white room scenario. I make up monsters on the spot, we have a few cool action scenes, and so on. It’s fun but kind of hollow, and the genre is so outside of my comfort zone that I don’t really know how to handle it, where NPCs fit in, what would be adequate motivation for the PCs to be banding together on these epic quests in the first place. Which is where I’m stumbling, because I thrive in character focused, high action settings. But I can’t quite see the whole picture and I can’t see where the character focus goes.

It’s all so new and I’m stumbling, really tripping up, for the first time in my gaming life. I love and engage with about half the game, the Apocalypse World half. I want to meet with the Dungeons & Dragons half, but the problem is I don’t know where that half is coming from.

Please help me out here. What fiction should I read or watch? What are the core reasons for playing in the dungeon fantasy genre? What is your advice for meeting the high action with a character focus? Or for new Dungeon Masters in the first place?

How can I get the genre?

13 thoughts on “So I’ve DMed a few Dungeon World one shots and I really like the game.”

  1. Well as far as fiction to read, I would very strongly recommend Terry Pratchet’s Discworld series for the lighthearted action, as well as Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series for the darker stuff.

    I’m having a hard time with the advice for meeting high action with a character focus, because my typical response is “For the first session, think of your favorite fantasy novel and crib locations and plots from there.” But after the first session, try to get a feel for what each player likes about their character and the game itself, and push on those things. Your party likes raiding dungeons? Throw ridiculously dangerous and awesome dungeons at them.

    All in all, I think the unspoken rule throughout DungeonWorld is: make it awesome. Don’t just have them fight orcs in a forest. Have them do a running battle on the back of a brontosaurus while the orcs are riding velociraptors (that actually happened in my campaign). But make sure that there’s a plot to it. That’s also important.

    (Sorry for the rambling)

  2. Hey, so I never played dungeony games growing up either (it was all Rifts and Robotech) so I found imagining interesting dungeons to be tough without drawing on Zelda and other video games, and that kind of puzzle dungeon can feel a bit contrived sometimes in DW.

    I wrote the Dark Heart of the Dreamer supplement partially to make it possible for me to run DW in a slightly different style that I was much better at. And the “dungeons as monsters” rules in it are specifically designed to help GMs generate dungeons on the fly that feel both varied and cohesive. I’ve had much more success playing DW with those tools. If the $5 price tag scares you off, let me know and I’ll send you a few samples so you can decide whether it might be useful for your needs.

  3. Great questions, Juniper Jazz!

    Fiction: Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, Tanith Lee’s Flat-Earth Cycle, HP Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle. 

    Core reasons for playing: Exploring, discovering, and creating a bizarre and fantastic world! Action! Derring-do! Swordplay! Maybe heroism, though likely not! Changing the fate of the world! Being awesome! 

    I’d really emphasize that exploring, discovering, and creating a bizarre and fantastic world is one of my core interests in playing, not least because as you discover the world, you become more involved with it. At first it’s just, “Oh awesome! That forest has dinosaurs living in it!” And later, it’s “We’re being attacked by ogres — we’ll need cavalry to defend our kingdom. Where can we get cavalry? Well, what if we capture some dinosaurs to ride into battle!” That kind of internal consistency and world-building does a lot for me. 

    Meeting the high-action with a character focus: I’d say some part of this is actually playing longer games, instead of playing one-shots. Over time, as the characters interact, talk, work together (or not), and continually change, resolve, or renew their bonds with each other, there will be lots of interesting character activity. In a one-shot, it might not be as obvious. 

    I might recommend focusing on one city, and excursions out from that city, so that there is a consistent environment to which PCs are returning and becoming attached. Dark Heart of the Dreamer and the City of Dis are great for this. In one game I’m running, the players have unwittingly embroiled themselves in some major Dis political struggles, and there are all kinds of powers and groups in the city that have opinions on the PCs, after their antics. That provides much more of that character focus.

    (Direct example: the Mage served Wynter, a dark, nasty, sadistic demon of ice, until he was asked by Lamashtu, the Demonic Accountant of Dis, to serve her as her chief collections agent. Lamashtu and Wynter used to be an item. The break up wasn’t happy. The Mage said yes to Lamashtu — he wanted more power, even if it would piss off Wynter. And now that he ripped open a hole to Wynter’s realm in the middle of Dis’s Palace District, by accident of course, Wynter can come for him and tell him how displeased the ice demon is. It says something about the Mage that he was so interested in power, he was willing to piss off the sadistic monster to whom he had pledged his service.)

    I really think that DW as a long-term game is substantially different from the one-shot dungeon crawl. The dungeon crawl is a great opportunity to show off, be awesome, introduce us to characters, etc., but it’s a starting point, to me. The real game comes in when you realize that that sword of power you stole from the dungeon? Well, everybody wants the hell out of it, including the King, and they’re all coming after you for it. Why does everybody want it? Because it’s actually the key to a legendary vault with the gold of the Ancients — enough money to fuel the war that the King is aching to pursue against the Cloud Riders, for instance. And so on, and so forth. 

    Hope that helps somewhat!

  4. Oh, I already have Dark Heart. I haven’t played with it just yet, but it does solve a lot of my problems with the Dungeon World core and the assumptions that it makes. It also adds a lot of setting assumptions. like diversity and the PCs being monsters that I just adore.

    I was kind of hesitant to use it since I haven’t come to terms with the core. I wasn’t sure that I could integrate it well enough, if that makes sense? Silly, I know.

    I’d still like to be able to DM the game without it, even though it might become my main mode of play.

  5. Juniper Jazz if you still need more inspiration apart from the excellent fiction advice that’s already been given, be sure to check out what is lovingly referred to as Appendix N.

    Appendix N was a list of books from the AD&D 1e DMG that Gary Gygax said were great inspiration to him when coming up with Chainmail and then eventually D&D. Honestly, if you are a fan of the fantasy genre, it’s just a great place to start, period.

    Some of it is pulpy and campy, some of it is epic. And really, every adventure needs some combination of those things. I can run a serious-ish game with my friends, but if we are not dying from laughter at least once per session, I am doing something wrong. This is a game about getting together with our buddies and playing make-believe and having a blast doing so, seriousness aside.

    Anyways, enough rambling, here is a link to a site that has recreated Gygax’s Appendix N:

  6. Watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and pretend it’s a role-playing game. You may notice a few things, like:

    a) The dungeon has four traps, but Indy only had 3 hold for detecting traps — what a nasty GM!

    b) Only one player showed up for the first session

    c) Indy’s player invented the ark wholesale, all the GM said was “hey, have a mission.”

  7. Expand your concept of a dungeon too.  A haunted forest, an airship, and a war camp are as much dungeons as any hole in the ground.   Some monsters are NPCs and some NPCs are monsters.

  8. Marshall Miller is exactly right here. I’d give him +10 if I could. A dungeon is just a word, but conceptually it can be anything. It can be an entire city or landmass. The entire planet (or world in this case) can be a dungeon. 

    Not everything has to be about going into deep, dark caverns and caves and fighting the monstrosities within, either for righteous honor or treasure or to rescue kidnapped victims. (Though, that does sound cool, too.) 

  9. I think it is kinda of cool to come across someone in gaming not saddled with the 20 plus years of non od&d or vampire to unlearn the tropes and conventions that have become engrained in most gamers – myself included. It would be awesome to play with someone like that. You have some lucky players

    I echo others – i just think of “dungeons” as flow charts – make sure there are good things like the stuff that gets you xp at key points – the rest is the journey for showing off fantastical worlds! They don’t have to be underground tombs. Also look at movies and books – Earthsea can be a dungeon there is a great story. A coming of age story learning about balance and the consequence of your actions. I also lie visual movies like stardust. Exploring a city or court can be a dungeon.

    Let us know how it goes! Peace

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