Things to do in the first session
First of, do everything that is said on pages 175-181 in the Dungeon World book.
Second, do what Ezio Melega describes here and create a world together at the table:
You might use a Dungeon Starter or something alike. That is also okay, that is not what this post will be about.
This is about how you make sure that the choices the players made for their characters matter in the game. This should help you to be a fan of the character
Coming from Dungeon World you should ask questions about where they come from and who they are and where they are going but let’s get a bit more specific, shall we?
Ask them about their instrument. All of them come with a story hook. If they choose the freshly repaired mandolin, ask them how it was destroyed and by whom. Write that name down and use them later! If they choose the pipes that enchanted their first love, ask them if it was a happy ending or a tragic love story.
They will choose a specific Bardic Lore. Make that matter. If they know about The Dead and Undead then make them face mummies. If they know about Planar Spheres – guess where the adventure is going? If you don’t want to be that fantastical at least use planar creatures, portals or cultists.
When they use Arcane Art, ask for specific descriptions and more importantly, ask the other characters how it feels to be affected by that. If there is a Wizard, ask them how they see this Bardic Magic and their opinions on it.
This goes for the Bard, but for every high CHA character: Give them people to talk to. They want to Parley so let them. Have enemies surrender before a fight and talk it out. Give them a chance to make friends (and enemies) by using their charisma and play elements of the dungeon against each other. Be liberal with interpreting “having leverage”. Leverage shouldn’t be hard to get, this is a basic move after all. Don’t take away the CHA class’s basic move!
The Cleric will choose a Deity. Write down their name and aspects. Give them a mission in the session related to that faith or even better, ask them why, in relation to their faith, they are on that adventure. Ask about the Enemies of their Deity and make them, or hints of them, show up.
If they are a healy Cleric, give them something to deal outside of the party. Make them find someone in dire need of healing. If you are a kind GM, make it someone that follows their faith. If you want to spice it up, make it a heretic that still needs help and might be a good target for conversion attempts.
When they Cast a Spell ask what divine signs appear. Ask them how it feels to channel the power of their Deity. Is it alien and bizarre or fulfilling as they become one with holy energy?
All Clerics can Turn Undead. If you can, have undead appear that can be turned. That is not as important as the Deity things but it is still a part of the Clerics identity so please respect that.
When they Cast a Spell on another character, ask them how it feels to be affected by divine magic. If they are not followers of that deity, ask the Cleric if it is okay to use divine magic on unbelievers. Does it even work?
When they Commune with their god, ask them how those prayers look. Communing with a goddess of Battle and Lightning is different then communing with the Wise King of Flowers.
Give them a clear chance to fulfill the precept of their religion. To best do that, ask them what kind of acts will count fr that. When they do, give them a cool boon to. Make them feel special and divine, don’t just give them a small, unimportant thing.
Oh the Druid.
In the beginning of the session, ask them about their Land. How it looks like, where it is. Most importantly, ask them what kind of creatures from this land they usually turn into. This help you out immensely because, when they give you that info you have a bit of time to come up with moves for these animal forms and you are not caught of guard when they do that for the first time.
Give them some Animals to talk to! If you asked about what kind of creatures lived on their land you should find some of them that also live where your current adventure takes place.
When they Shapeshift, ask them how they do it. They most probably do not just flicker and within a millisecond have a different form right? Do they call on animal spirits to get their form? Do they craft their own flesh into a new form or do they borrow the form from an animal in some kind of spiritual exchange? If you know that, you can make the Shapeshifting mean something in the fiction besides getting cool special abilities.
Givem them Bars to Bend and Gates to Lift. Create obstacles that most likely will need brute force to get through. Be lenient in what can be destroyed so that they get used to smashing things with that move. Its a powerful tool that can easily be forgotten in my experience. Of course don’t railroad them into it but offer the possibilitiy.
Ask about their Signature Weapon. Why is it important? What makes it cool? What is its name? What important figure wielded it beforehand? What hidden abilities is is said to have? What giant threats were defeated with it? I repeat. Ask for the name of the weapon. Named weapon are cool. If it has no name, ask why.
In the same way, ask about their Fighting Style and reward them for it. If they pull out crazy fighting maneuvers, don’t make them Defy Danger for every step of it. They are THE Fighter. If anyone can do that, it is them.
Include a meaningful enemy. Someone that will deal with the Fighter specifically. If they are defendy, give them a party member to defend from overwhelming force. IF they are highly aggressive, give them a strong enemy that will seek them out specifically as a challenge or because “the Fighter needs to die right now”. Make them feel powerful by making the world show that they are powerful.
Ask the Paladin what their Quest is. Make that the first adventure. Start them at the last or second to last step of fulfilling that quest.
They will choose some boons. Make sure that at least 1 of these boons has the chance to pay of. If they have a sure sense of direction to their target, put them in a confusing maze or big cave system that they won’t care about since they know where the target is. When they are immune to spears, have hoplites show up. When they can sense lies, have people lie to them.
In the same sense, give them a moment their vows are important. Don’t give them a crushing choice between those but a moment for the Paladin to show that they stand by their vows. Make them show up so we are reminded of them and of the moral nature of the Paladin.
In the same sense as the cleric, ask about the Deity they worship. Focus maybe a bit more on their enemies and what this god wants the Paladin to fight for. That will inform what vows the Paladin will most likely have to uphold. Same as the cleric, make these elements of the faith show up and mean something in the game.
I am the Law. Let them be the Law. Give them flunkies to commandeer away. I personally would aim to give at least 2 chances for this move to work and the first time they do it, give them what they want. Make them feel smart about using that move and choosing the Paladin. The second time, you can be more freely in what you choose. I am sure you can think of something. Just be sure to not play cotcha with the Paladin or they will just stray away from using that move ever again.
“First” thing you do. Ask about the Animal Companion!
What is its name? How did the two meet? How is their relationship? Write down the strenghs and weaknesses and trainings of the AC. In the first session you should aim at showing each of these things once. You might not hit all of them but every time the AC is involved in the action, look at these tags and try to bring them into action. A 6- of the Ranger is always a good possibility to bring in one of the AC’s weaknesses. BUT!
Don’t make the AC a hassle that they want to get rid of. Its a cool thing. The main thing you want to accomplish with showing the strengths and weaknesses is give the AC a personality. If the Ranger player forgets about his animal you have done it wrong.
In the same way, don’t include elements in your first adventure that would punish them for having that animal or takes it away from them. If they have a big bad wolf, don’t make them climb a wall the AC can’t follow. You effectively took the AC away. Never do that. Not in the first session.
Give them stuff to shoot. An unsuspecting enemy is so easy to include and it gives them a chance to show of their archery skill with Called Shot. Be liberal with interpreting “defenseless or surprised”.
Also, make enemies flee. A fleeing enemy is something they can Hunt&Track. I think in all games I was in I never saw this move used because no opportunity was provided.
It’s all about the Traps baby! (well not all)
Traps. Put lots of them into the dungeon. (you should do that anyway but it goes double for a Thief). When the Thief doesn’t has any traps to find you have failed your job.
When they handle traps, ask them where they learned to deal with traps. If you include magical traps, ask them how they deal with that. (whatever they say is okay here)
Give them things to disarm, steal, open, manipulate and whatever else to make Tricks of the Trade a thing. Traps are a big part of that but also locked chests etc. You should never have chests that just open normally in your first session if there is a Thief in the group. Let them do their thing.
Let them do it from behind. This is basically the same advice as for the Ranger. Give them backs to Backstab. Have them sneak around and take out guards, have them sneak behind the massive ogre and help out the fighter. All that stuff.
When there is treasure, ask them what it is worth – they probably know. Ask them about rival thieves and ancient treasures. Everything bling is their domain. So give them a big score at the end, but make it something they need to use their skills to get. Make it clear that the party would have a much harder time getting it without a thief.
Ia Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!
That doesn’t help? Okay.
A Wizard stores spells in their mind to unleash the later. Or is it? Ask them what Preparing Spells means. Make it not just a bookkeeping thing but something that has meaning in the fiction. When they prepare, ask about their spellbook. How does it look? Is it theirs or stolen? How do spells written down in it look?
When they Cast a Spell ask them how that looks. How that feels and how it works. What are they doing? Are they hacing the world or drawing on the winds of mana? Are they channeling the spirit of dead mages or drawing on their own lifeforce to power their spells?
How does it feel to loose a spell that was caught in their mind and is suddenly gone? Is it terrible or orgasmic or liberating? When you know these things it will be much easier to come up with hard moves when they fail to Cast Spells.
If you tie those hard moves back to their spellcasting idiom they will feel accomplished and know that their contribution to the game matters. That thing happened because they set up the rules like that.
Later on you can play with those rules, maybe introduce something that breaks one of these fundamental rules so the Wizard can figure out how they did it. Don’t do this in the first session though.
Related to those rules of magic are Rituals and Places of Power. Ask the Wizard how Places of Power look in your world. Are they ancient stone circles pr mana batteries? Are they star observatories or places of blood sacrifice? Once you know that, ask how the nature of places of power reflect on the Rituals that are done there. Mana battery rituals look different then blood arena ones.
When you know this it will be easier to come up with the requirements for the rituals the player comes up with.
Give them a Place of Power. The first session of a Wizard should include the chance for a ritual. Make them feel clever about finding and using it. Don’t make the conditions unobtainable, in fact; make it something they can do THAT session. Introduce the Place of Power early. Play into the skills of the other characters. When there is a Cleric involved they can do divine effect together, same goes for Druid and naturey rituals. When you make the Ritual a party project everyone will feel involved without the Wizard losing their special thing.
In the end it comes down to validating player choices. Make it clear that the things that happened, happened because of what the players brought to the table.
Make them use all their moves.
Learn about their place in the world and how these places work.
Make them feel welcome and awesome.
What is missing here? What else should you do to be a fan of a specific character? What worked in your games?