Coming from games like D&D and World of Darkness, I often find that I need to unlearn stuff.

Coming from games like D&D and World of Darkness, I often find that I need to unlearn stuff.

Coming from games like D&D and World of Darkness, I often find that I need to unlearn stuff. One of my recent discoveries, which I’m sure I’m not the first to make, is the following:

There’s no BBEG

The Big Bad Evil Guy / Gal, a classical trope from D&D, and various other RPG’s and genres, is something we are sort of brought up with. That guy / gal whom this adventure is all about stopping, the one with all the spikes, minions and often also “owns” the dungeon.

A BBEG can prove quite detrimental to a Dungeon World experience, because playing a monster like one often induces several complications, namely because DW characters are a lot more competent than your average D&D character.

We saw an example of this problem a while back, someone wanting to prevent the players from summoning the BBEG of his dungeon, a ghost, with a level 1 wizard spell. He wanted to prevent it because he envisioned a big boss fight with this ghost.

This is a problem, because now the game has shifted from being about adventurers doing adventurous things to a GM trying to prevent players from using their characters’ abilities to trivialize their prep.

Because of this “insight”, I’m going to stop running games with a “main villain”, because if they are disposed of prematurely in some way, the game will grind to a halt without any “plot-bearing element”.

Instead, I’m going to do things this way in the future: I will prep a dungeon as I’ve always done it, even with a “person in charge” (PIC) in the dungeon. The difference is, that person isn’t a BBEG. It’s just a more powerful monster with more resources, and woe to the players if they engage it on its own terms.

The keyword is “dynamic dungeon environment”. If the PIC dies or is defeated, the dungeon should still be a dangerous environment, unless it has been cleared of monsters.

Killed the kobold king? Good for you! He still have thousands of surviving minions that’ll still kill you on sight. The dragon is dead? Great! Now the landsharks aren’t afraid of digging into its lair anymore!

16 thoughts on “Coming from games like D&D and World of Darkness, I often find that I need to unlearn stuff.”

  1. Awesome.  The only really important elements to the story when I run DW would be the PCs.  Dungeons are just where they go to accomplish their goals, tell their stories, and shine.

  2. I currently have five Big Bads wandering around this one massive cave, each one can die without it causing a problem… but each one slain helps those who remain. The last one standing is the final boss, just by default, and will get an upgrade in power as their plan succeeds.

    I totally agree with you though.

    You know, DW always reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, some episodes are comedy, other times the gang needs weeks to defeat a foe. Trick is, I don’t decide when a villain is easy or tough, its just how they deal with it.

  3. Totally! I love when the player’s spout lore / discern / defy danger about a possible big bad that I have no inkling of (Yet) and then build on them from there. By the time the players get round to encountering them, they have been so well discussed in the fiction and connected to the PCs they are anything but trivialised.

  4. Eh, I’m going to disagree. Having a BBEG is not a bad thing for Dungeon World. A naga at the center of an evil Snake Cult. An Ice Witch completing a ritual to lock the region in perpetual winter. The brain of a deathless titan who’s ichor is corrupting the land. All of these are BBEGs I’ve used in previous games of DW. And they’ve all worked fine.

    Having a BBEG does not mean the game will be a railroad or that the GM will block the players to keep this NPC alive. That’s poor GMing (that we’ve all been guilty of at some point), not the result of having a BBEG.

    AW-based games follow the principle of “playing to find out”. For both the players and the GM. If that means you have to find out what happens when the characters defeat your BBEG with the first move of the session, so be it.

  5. Adventure Fronts certainly allow for a BBEG. But your important revelation, by renaming them a PIC, is still a good one.

    It isn’t the job of the GM to keep the BBEG protected.

    Leaving blanks applies to more than just maps, too. As Nathan Roberts points out — having room for the PCs to Spout Lore about the BBEG can only be a good thing.

    Defeating/outsmarting/negating the BBEG does tend to close down the Front — but you are right, the region doesn’t need to get less perilous (unless the death/departure/redemption of the Necromancer makes all his undead minions collapse, or something, which is certainly still doable).

  6. I think you can really go with or without the BBEG. The primary problem of having one is the tendency for the GM to protect the NPC and to manipulate the game in a way that forces the heroes to interact with this character as a “boss villain”. 

    I run adventures of all sorts, some have things like a BBEG others don’t. But, as a “fan of the characters” I let the chips fall where they may. If they stop the ritual “early” awesome for them! I think the key here, and with many things DW, is for the GM to stop have preconceived notions about the path the game will take and to focus on playing to find out what happens.

  7. Totally agree, there is always a bigger fish or a school of small fish, with big sharp pointy teeth.

    For me it is also a question, of not getting to attached to your prep, and letting it get in the way of the spontaneous and unexpected.   

  8. I ported my D&D 4 campaign to DW. It has various villains of ascending power (originally laid out, of course, to challenge them across levels as they made their way to the ultimate baddy). Something I learned quite quickly is not to feel precious about my villains. If I want the face off to be epic, it has to happen fictionally (swarming guards making it difficult to get to the villain, magical obstacles, etc.).

    That’s really become my best advice to myself: plan loosely because everything is breakable. Also, crack an evil grin because EVERYTHING is breakable…

  9. Wauw, lots of response!

    I think I need to clarify something, and that is that I don’t mind the concept of the BBEG, but rather the mindset that often follows these kind of NPC’s.

    It is exactly as John Lewis said, the problem comes when the GM tries to force outcomes in favor of some big climax or something like that.

    That’s why I wanted to make a distinction, between the two prevalent ways of handling them, namely as a “person in charge” an as a “end boss / plot drive”.

  10. Kasper Brohus Allerslev Another chime in to say that you’re dead right.

    My BBEG is an ongoing campaign villain, having been promoted into that position in play – he answered the Bard’s “Charming and Open” with “Someday I shall rule this Kingdom”. Which seemed cool at the time. But he’s spent a lot of time since making sure he’s never where the characters can harm him.

  11. I completely agree with the principles of the op but I would state it differently: The problem is not so much the BBEG but the preconceived story arc, aka the script or the railroad. That is the major thing you need to unlearn when you enter the DW.

    Take the example of the ghost in the op. The problem was not that he existed. The problem was that he was scripted to appear at the end of the session and not at the beginning. So the problem was the GM’s commitment to the pre written script, not his commitment to the monster.

    So I believe the solution is already in the rules. Prep your map (with blanks) and your fronts, portents and dangers (also with blanks). And lose the script – that one you leave blank all together.

    And then you play to find out what happens.

    Edit: I see now that Kasper says exactly this in a later post. Take +1 Kasper!

  12. The Dungeon World Guide has some suggestions for what happens if the players kill the BBEG of the Front, which mirrors some of this: Let the antagonists die, let the players cause real consequences as a result.

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