21 thoughts on “So am I the only person here who was utterly disappointed by Dark Heart of the Dreamer?”

  1. I love it. I’m actually using a modified/expanded version of Heritage and some of the principles and GM moves for a campaign setting I’m converting for DW.

  2. I’m not much into extra-planar adventures, so I haven’t bought it, but I”ve heard of some cool ideas that makes me still consider it.  Stuff about having the Dungeon be a monster sounds pretty cool.

  3. IMHO there’s a lot of great ideas in the Planarch Codex. I’ll agree that compared to any other games’ sourcebooks it’s rather short… but then again so are most DW Adventure Starters (2-6 pages usually).

    I got a lot of value out of my $5.

  4. Planarch Codex is about giving you some tools to build your experiences with your players, and that’s what makes it work. It doesn’t spend a lot of time giving you a fiction – because you’re meant to play to find out the fiction.

  5. Jonathan Walton

     1. Layout. 2 page spreads was annoying. I had to go and find a program that could slice it back to 1 page per sheet. The fact that half the pages have no page number was equally annoying. Normally this is done to accommodate a graphic or some such, but here we where talking about pages of pure text having no number.

    2. Text structure. There are a lot of custom moves in here but they are all sort of done in passing. There is insufficient structure and no table of contents or index, meaning that the rules will be hard to find during play.  The core rule book solves this by giving summary sheets so you don’t have to look at book during play.

    3. Stylistically I found it very jarring to read. Several sections seem to stop abruptly at the bottom of the page and feel like another paragraph or two where just chopped off to fit the space.  There is very little flow from section to section. It feels Like I’m reading things in random order.

    3. lack of examples. There are no play examples showing the new moves in play. What the books needs is a 4th section which does this.Creates a parish, and a dungeon and then shows it actually being played, with call outs to all the new moves.

    4. The setting is too skeletal. The one key NPC has a mechanical description only.  This is the core of the setting and the most important NPC has no personality, and just a single fact for a back-story. What else is in this city. Who are her enemies, and why might they be trying to end her rule?

    You draw in nine named locations in the city. And Really I’d expect to see a page on each of them. What is there more or less. What organization is running that parish and what nefarious scheme they might be planning, and a couple of jobs they might have going, I shouldn’t have to go somewhere on the internet to get at least this much. 

    If this where something available for free, your just going to have to make that up, would be a fair enough answer. But in a product I paid for, which calims to describe a setting, I don’t find that fair enough at all.

    If I put this product side by side with the freely available Dungeon World Guide, the guide wins easily on every point. Heck it even provides a more fleshed out adventure starter in passing.

  6. These are interesting points, but from my perspective, the lack of a “fleshed-out setting” is, in fact, why I love DHotD so much. The majority of my setting construction is done in collaboration at the game table, and so a massive PDF listing off facts about a world would not be interesting to me. Far more interesting is a to-the-point discussion of a new idea for a fantasy setting, and what that fantasy setting means. The Planar Codex presents itself as a world, but the more you look at it, it is better described as a philosophy. The little snippets of information about specific locations and a specific NPC help create a tone in broad strokes, and then I, as a GM, am capable of taking these bullet-point ideas to my players and creating something personal and totally awesome out of it.

    But, of course, this is just one style of play, and certainly it’s valid to desire more than the bare skeleton.

    Though, really, I’d pay someone five dollars just for the Dungeons As Monsters idea alone, let alone some of the most focused, well-articulated, and brilliant fantasy worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. (I share the broad idea of the City of Dis and the parallels to the homogenization of the Western World to anybody who will listen as an example of how fantasy can be so, so much more relevant than people let it be these days).

  7. You guys have NO IDEA how interesting and relevant to my current needs this conversation is 🙂 Points from all sides are welcome!

    Konrad Zielinski; Good points. How would you suggest increasing the amount of detailed information presented in a published setting without upsetting the balance of the GM/Player created world?

    Colter Hanna; I like the definition of DHotD as a philosophy rather than setting. But to Konrad’s point, there will be gamers who want more. What content could be safely added without getting too detailed?

  8. I would say that the best content to add, that would perhaps make both sides happy is more ways and inspiration for the creation of additional content within the setting, alongside sparse but evocative examples of this in action. I can envision a list of the sort of people one might find in the City of Dis, with naught more but a two-line description of who they are and their instinct.

    The advice for how to come up with new districts in Dis is a good example of where the book already does this. I like this because you don’t make any attempt to lock people into your specific vision of the world, but at the same time you guide them to understanding what you’re trying to achieve with your ideas.

  9. Colter Hanna

     And here my other criticism come into play. The Dungeons as Monsters section is the one that had me wondering if I had lost a page or something. I was expected an in depth example and instead I got the start of a new section. There does seem to be a good Idea here but its going to take me an awful lot of tinkering and thinking to work out how its supposed to work, because from the text as written I just don’t get it. If anything if anything it seems to be at least somewhat at odds with how the standard Dungeon World rules work. In particular the draw n check boxes bit seems like odd purely mechanical book keeping. So the book told me the new rules but didn’t show me how to make them work.

    Stefan Grambart

    If we apply that logic to the core game, then you could equaly argue that specific class information shouldn’t have been there because it impacts the GM player shared creation of the world. Ditto for providing pre-made monster statistics complete with move lists. All of these things are constrains on setting.

    Even if the nine named locations on the map where described that would still leave more then enough blank spaces to be filled in. And groups that didn’t like the feel of those areas would be free to replace them, or simply focuse their adventures elsewhere in Dis. Much as some people replace the standard Wizard with the alternate Mage class.

  10. Konrad Zielinski Cool. That helps a ton.

    First, I’m definitely happy to refund you (or anyone else) $5 if you don’t think you’re going to get that much value out of Dark Heart. Just message me on G+ and we’ll sort it out, no questions asked.

    To address your concerns:

    1. The format for Dark Heart is a 3.5×5″ booklet, so printing them as single pages (with really huge text) didn’t seem to make sense to me. I always print it as spreads when I bring it with me to run at meetups and conventions. I’m happy to export a PDF in a different format if you’d like.

    The pages are so small that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice extra wordcount for page numbers, so they appear next to section headings but not on other pages. Plus, there’s only 32 pages and no TOC or index, so I didn’t think they’d get that much use. They’re mostly there so people can reference them as needed in discussions of and questions about Dark Heart.

    2. As the opening pages suggest, I don’t really expect anyone to use all the moves in Dark Heart. There are even some moves I’ve personally never used (never had a PC Road Warden in my games, for example). The intention is for individual GMs to use the custom moves that appeal to them and invent variations or entirely new ones as needed. I suggest just printing out the pages with the ones you light and highlighting them for easy reference (I do this with other folks’ DW content), but whatever works.

    3. There was a lot of sweat and tears put into getting everything to fit in a 32-page mini-booklet, and it was reorganized several times to try to find an arrangement that made sense. There were some compromises made in this regard, and I totally accept this criticism as valid.

    3b. It’s true there are only a few examples (the parish of Samnis, the Sultana, the City of Dis, the Dark Heart mission at the back, the ice goblin hideout) and that the booklet could benefit from more. Again, I can only plead the extreme length restrictions of the format for this one. Some of the Planarch Codex stuff I’m working on now (especially That Ancient Serpent) is less ambitious and more focused than Dark Heart (and can build on it), so the text has a bit more room to breathe. There are also a few more examples in the little guide I made for running one-shots of Dark Heart, so maybe that will help: http://corvidsun.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/planarch-one-shots-021913.pdf

    4. The setting in Dark Heart definitely takes a “teach a man to fish” approach rather than detailing a lot of different locations, factions, and details. Aside from the pages on the city, parishes, and the sultana, it pretty much exists in the job table and the “what happened to that job we didn’t take?” table. The core of Dark Heart is procedure for generating a particular style of urban fantasy setting more than a specific city with defined locations. When I run Dark Heart, I follow the procedures and generate setting as I go just like everyone else. (Though, again, That Ancient Serpent will be a bit different in that it offers locations and factions and such that you can choose to insert into the standard procedurally-generated setting of Dis).

    The map locations are all ones Tony made up when he drew the map. I didn’t invent them, and none of them exist unless you want them to. There’s a blank version of the map here in case you want to start from scratch: http://corvidsun.com/2013/01/28/planarch-codex-cartography-of-dis/

    Again, sorry it’s not free. Dark Heart is actually the only game thing that I sell. Everything else I make is free. But I totally understand the feeling when you buy (or download) something and it totally doesn’t provide the right information you need in order to run or play it the way you want to, and you feel like “GAH now I have to go and do all the extra work myself in order to play this game.” That’s how I feel about most RPG content, honestly; in fact, that’s how I feel about Dungeon World, which is why I had to make Dark Heart. If you don’t feel like writing your own supplement, though, I’m happy to give you a refund.

    Finally, yeah that’s rough. Unfortunately, I can’t really control the price of the Dungeon World Guide or even Dungeon World itself. I mean DW is $10, which makes charging anything for a supplement or adventure look like highway robbery. I tried to price Dark Heart somewhere between a new playbook and ALL OF DW, but that’s not a very large pricing window. Also, I kind of dislike selling stuff in general but am experimenting with commercial publishing after a long time away (since 2007). If you prefer free things, I did all the layout for Grim Portents #2 (both free like beer and free like speech), which should be out as soon as Chris gets less busy.

    Let me know if I can be helpful in any other ways.

  11. P.S. Actually, it’s not quite true that all the map locations are Tony’s. The map is based on stuff I wrote about Dis, including the palace, the docks, the tower to the moon, and Ditchwater parish. The rest is Tony, however, as is the look and feel of those images, and they aren’t intended to be in every planarch game.

  12. I found the compactness startling at first, but it’s been lurking in my imagination ever since, challenging me to revisit my own ideas about what’s actually necessary in gaming writing. I’d love it for that even if I didn’t also love the content.

  13. While writing my own supplement, I’m finding the balance of providing a flexible framework VS ‘valuable’ content a real challenge. Knowing when to step out if the way and let the GM and players have their conversation is a very fine line. The suggestion of play examples is a good one though!

  14. Stefan Grambart

    On the other hand I’m very happy with Adventures on Dungeon Planet. Yes it may not be as ambitions as Dark Heart was, but it delivers what it promises in spades.

    One of the things I would add. Put things in the same order as they are in the core rules of the system you are writing for, So if you supplement has something to say about character creation put it first, and if you have new custom monsters they go in the back. And I as a reader have a good Idea of where to find things. Adventures on Dungeon Planet does this.

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