Just GM’d my first session of Dungeon World.

Just GM’d my first session of Dungeon World.

Originally shared by Jamie Frost

Just GM’d my first session of Dungeon World. Was a bit rough, but I got some good feedback from the players. A couple of things that I’ve learned, before I go to bed:

1. A one-shot is a very different animal from a campaign. Players said they enjoyed the world-building, but it definitely dragged on too long and filled in a lot of detail that wasn’t going to come up, and was time that could have been better spent actually doing stuff. I need to find a happy medium where there’s enough flavor to lead to an interesting adventure but not so much that we’ve spent half the session setting things up.

2. One of my biggest stumbling blocks as a GM is still present: when I lose confidence or become uncertain about where things are going, I instinctively throw boring obstacles at the players, presumably to give myself time to think. I need to learn to let the players make their own trouble instead of doing that, and focus on interesting challenges instead of meaningless ones–and also to make challenges interesting if I find a scene dragging.

3. Things were slow starting, as I opened with the players in a “how do you get to the dungeon” situation. One of my players said that he is actually in favor of starting in non-combat encounters, and I agree that it’s good to get a bit of characterization going before the first die is cast, but I still didn’t handle it very well. I think the key is to start at a meaningful threshold–the GMing section touches on this, suggesting, e.g., starting at the doors of the dungeon, but I think that’s actually a bad example. If you choose not to go into the dungeon, you just go home and things stay the same. Same thing with the quest-giver situation I started with; one of the characters wasn’t tempted by any of the possible rewards given the risks, and so was going to abstain, and though he ultimately went forwards the fact that this was a valid choice with no immediate and apparent consequences was a problem.

So, key lesson: if “the status quo is preserved” is one of the choices, the decision is a boring one. PCs should never be allowed to play it safe, so every crossroads they come to should lead to a collection of equally important places.

20 thoughts on “Just GM’d my first session of Dungeon World.”

  1. Not DW specifically, but I have liked putting the character at the dungeon “doors” then asking each character in turn why he is here. Players may struggle a not to find something, but I’ve never had anyone’s character say “No reason, so I think I’ll head home.”

  2. Dude, screw world building, especially if it’s a one-shot game. Also, don’t start the adventure at the dungeon doors, start it in the dungeon.

    With the PCs surrounded by a hords of goblins.

    While a balrog is climbing the passage way behind them.

    And everything is on fire.

    Seriously, the first adventre should start in media res. Ask a few questions to establish what they were looking for, or what they were doing there, and just go.

  3. Media res is common advice. For me, as a player, it pushes me to think mostly about the combat mechanics though. Which is great in some games, but one of the things i want from dungeon world is a bit of remove from players talking about the mechanics they are using.

  4. find a question from the bonds or playbook specific stake-like questions and set a scene that hopefully will answer that for you.

    Don’t just start IN the dungeon, start at the end of the dungeon, the big bad lies defeated, you are low on everything and the dark depths are closing in. There is only the one macguffin here as loot. What is it? what does it do? Who wants it really bad? And how are you going to get back to town?

  5. Well, in media res doesn’t have to mean combat Doug Bonar  . But it does mean action. You start the session off with the characters in a situation that demands their immediate attention and action, whether that’s fighting a horde of lizardmen, trying to outrun a giant boulder as it crashes through a ruined temple, or delicately explaining to the king trying about how you let his son get kidnapped. It doesn’t matter what the characters are doing, so long as they’re immediately involved.

    Also, if you’re following the rule of “to do it, you have to DO it”, it shouldn’t matter if you’re thinking about the combat mechanics. Simply saying “I Hack & Slash that guy” doesn’t cut it for DW games.

  6. Also, to address your 3rd point James Etheridge , I started my first game GMing DW (and the first session my group played) like this:

    “You’re hot on the trail of the vile Snake Cultists and their captives. Their trail through the swamp is easy to follow, as they don’t assume anyone’s behind them, and the villagers they kidnapped are slowing them down. They’re about a day ahead of you, but you’re gaining rapidly.

    Player A, what did you learn about the Snake Cult when you cleared out that infested temple a few days ago?

    Player B, what vile magics did the Snake Cult Priestess use against you when you fought her?

    Player C, why have you sworn vengeance against the Snake Cult?”

    And so on.

  7. I hear what our saying, but…  What I don’t want is people immediately reading their play sheets looking for what mechanical moves and powers they have to deal with the situation.  If it works for you, great, I’m just saying that it doesn’t work for me as a player, so I tend not to use it as a GM.

    Also, “I swing my sword at him.  Hack-and-slash for 6 damage!” is just as bad as “I Hack & slash that guy”.  In my experience it is leads to people describing the moves they want to trigger rather than describing what they want to do and letting the GM fit it to moves.  

  8. Christopher Stone-Bush that Snake Cultist bit sounds exactly like what I consider “the doors of the dungeon”.   The characters are already committed to the adventure, but we’re at a slight pause before the next action so that we — the players — can find out a bit of who they are and why they are here.  

  9. I don’t think players describing actions to fit moves is bad as such (else how would you trigger the move as a player?), it’s only a problem if your players feel restricted by the move corset and don’t ever think of “wearing” something else.

  10. Doug Bonar if you want more detailed descriptions, simply prompt the players. They will quickly learn by example. For example, start asking questions like, “you saying your sword how?” and my favorite “what do you hope to accomplish by X” and offer two plausible alternatives. “Are you trying to frighten him away or trying to hurt him?”

  11. I was lucky enough to be one of those players and as there are great suggestions here, I’ll come from the other direction and say that James did something not a lot of people do. He made me “feel” the environment. His attention to detail and thorough delivery made me feel like I was right there and not a lot of people do that. Definitely a great storyteller.

  12. I agree, Damian Jankowski, the reason for asking clarifying questions is not to be pedantic but as an aid in narration and storytelling. Sounds like he did a great job!

  13. Chuck Durfee   Sure, if new players fall into just describing the mechanics, you can ask leading questions and you can give descriptions to lead by example.   Then again, I was just suggesting starting at a point where the players are encouraged to add description rather than starting from a point that encourages them to look directly to the mechanics.  

  14. My feeling here is with the “to do it, you have to DO it” rule of AW-based games, describing the mechanics and describing the fiction are very much intertwined, Doug Bonar . While I agree that you don’t want players constantly looking down at their sheets when faced with a conflict or challenge, players have those character sheets for a reason. I have no problem with players, especially new players,  looking at their sheets to remind themselves of what they are good at, or how something works.

    As no move triggers without the player having their character take the appropriate fictional action, I don’t really see how the players can “look directly to the mechanics”.

  15. Christopher Stone-Bush Hmm.  As with starting the adventure, we may be saying similar things with different words.  We both read “to do it, you have to DO it” as meaning to focus on the fiction first.

    I’m just saying that for players new to DW — and maybe even for DW players new to a specific game — it seems to me that starting in the action doesn’t work as well as starting just before some action.  The being dropped in the action w/o a bit of description, roll play, setting bonds and answering questions to prime them, the players are likely to fall back on descriptions closely tied to the moves they see on the sheets.  

    One reaction to that is to try to go more gonzo and hope they follow.  If you will, lean on the capitalization in “tdi,yhtDi”.  

    My preferred alternative is to emphasis the fiction and the freedom to have the character do whatever you want.  As the GM, figure out what moves apply after the fact — using defy danger as a the prototypical example, but not saying “OK, defy danger with X”, just saying “roll +X” and interpreting the results.  Basically, I think of “tdi,yhtDi” as the players side alternate to the GM advice of never naming the move you are making.    

  16. Players can name moves if they want (unlike the GM). It becomes really helpful when a player clearly is trying (or HAS) triggered a move but the GM misses it.  But a player can’t just name the move; the character actually has to do it too of course.

    Spout Lore, Discern, Parley and Defend get frequently missed by GMs.  So it’s okay for a player to say, “I pull back and think about what my father told me about these beasts.  I’m Spouting Lore about them.”

  17. For one shots I also strongly prefer to start in media res or at least start “at the door to the dungeon”.  

    HOWEVER, it’s waaaay better to talk to your characters a bunch first.  Once chars are created, ask a bunch of questions!  “Okay guys, as I mentioned, you’ll be starting at the door to the dungeon.  Durga, what motivated you to come here?  Interesting!  What’s the name of your grandfather who went missing in this very dungeon, so many years ago?”  

    Ask a lot of probing questions and you’ll get players into the spirit of things.

    Tangentially, I’d recommend removing all quest-giver-NPCs from all your games.  

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