Originally shared by Dan Maruschak
Dungeon World with my niece, actual play
Over Christmas, my niece Anya (age 12) started asking me some questions about D&D and RPGs in general. She was obviously interested, so I agreed to run a session of Dungeon World for her and her mom (of the games I know this seemed like the best fit, with player-facing rules that wouldn’t be too overwhelming for her, and with GM-facing rules that aren’t so loose-y goose-y that I get frustrated). Some mild illness postponed the original day-after-Christmas plan, but I ran the session yesterday.
Anya’s character was Zerith, the evil halfling thief, and my sister-in-law Jill played Aranwe the elven ranger accompanied by animal companion Lars the hawk. I don’t really approve of the “don’t prep first session” rule of DW, so I had created a simple dungeon: An evil sorcerer has a small tower on the coast, from which he sends out monsters to steal anything valuable, thus being a menace to shipping, etc., and has been making life miserable in the area for decades. Just recently, a huge wave has smashed into the tower causing a bit of a landslide so that it now threatens to fall into the sea (along with anything valuable inside). We open with the two adventurers arriving at the tower, having decided to investigate after hearing about all this backstory from some poor villagers.
I made maps of the various levels of the tower, and an illustration of the exterior (I don’t think I really buy into the “leave blanks” rule of DW, either), and asked how they would proceed. Since neither one of them had ever played RPGs before, they did a few things that didn’t map to typical “gamer” behavior. For example, usually with *W games I think it’s useful for the GM to direct “what do you do” questions at specific people to keep everything from bogging down into committee-like groupthink decisions, but in this case they seemed a little flummoxed with how to do things that required the other character’s assistance (the thief had a plan that involved rope, which only the other character had) until I said something to the effect of “you know, your characters are standing next to each other right now, there’s nothing stopping them from talking to each other”.
They climbed a rope down the cracked cliff-face to approach the tower door, which had been jarred slightly out of frame due to the damage of the collapse. Zerith the thief peeked inside but didn’t see anyone (unbeknownst to them, all of the attention inside the tower is focused out to sea, since they’re expecting a problem from that direction). Rather than going through the door, they decide to throw a grappling hook up to the window above the door (to the third tower level). Zerith climbs up through the window and finds himself in the tower’s large kitchen, spying four frog people at the far side of the chamber, watching out of the other windows that give a view onto the sea. The window Zerith is in opens onto a landing on a spiral staircase, so the thief signals Aranwe to follow up the rope and tries to sneak up the stairs.
Unfortunately Zerith steps on some unexpected grit and the scraping sound alerts one of the frog people, who turns, shouts in alarm, and starts charging with a spear. The thief tries to jab the frog with his short sword, but misses, and takes some damage from the frog’s spear. Aranwe zips up the rope and, perched in the window, manages to send an arrow into the shoulder of the frog who hadn’t realized he was dealing with two intruders. The thief tries to scramble away from the frog up the stairs, but stumbles. The ranger sets off a smokebomb, hoping to confuse the frogs (this was a use of Adventuring Gear, I wondered if this might be veering into stomping on some “nice protection” of some other gear in the book, but it seemed cool so I just went with it). Under the cover of smoke, they both flee up the stairs, with the frogs still looking for them in the smoke-filled room, at least for now.
The room at the top of the stairs has a door, which Zerith peeks through. Because of the way I had the tower laid out, this happened to be the main chamber of the sorcerer, so what they see is a frail old man sitting on a throne channeling some sort of magical power through a foot-and-a-half diameter pearl into a large stone tub or cistern that has a locked metal grate over it. Two of his frog people minions stand nearby, ready to assist him. As the adventurers ponder what to do, the sorcerer finishes his spell, and Zerith notices that whatever is in the cistern now seems to have humanoid hands that are grabbing at the bars, trying to get out.
The thief creeps into the chamber to investigate some things and the ranger steps to the doorway and sends an arrow at the sorcerer’s head. It’s not a clean shot, but manages to stun and disorient him considerably (the 7-9 result on the Ranger’s head-shot option in called shot). After finding a shark in another cistern and discovering that arrows don’t do much damage to giant pearls, the thief heads over to the locked cistern that was being enspelled earlier. He makes short work of the lock, and a large magically-created-from-a-shark Sahaugin bursts forth. The frogs, who had been running for their weapons when the commotion started, finally begin to move against the adventurers.
The ranger sends another arrow at Borlan the Sorcerer, who seems to be recovering his wits, this time ordering Lars the hawk to join the attack. The arrow merely grazes him, but Lars puts several deep gashes in his face and neck. The next arrow finds his heart, and the sorcerer slumps over dead. Zerith snatches the giant pearl from its stand and heads through another door (eventually finding the sorcerer’s library and bedchamber), while Aranwe decides to flee back through the door and down the stairs. Some poor rolls make that not go so well, but eventually the ranger manages to shake these two frogs… to end up back in the now mostly smoke-free room with the four frogs they’d left there earlier. Aranwe leaps out the window, which prompted a few minutes of rules-lookup since I knew there were falling rules in the book somewhere (eventually I found it: falling from a three- or four-story building seemed like it could kill a normal person, so I called it 1d10, after having missed the Defy Danger of using good technique to absorb the impact of the landing).
After looking around in the sorcerer’s chambers a bit, Zerith the thief also decides to exit via window, tossing the pearl out ahead and then trying to climb down the walls, but slips on the sea-spray-slick stones and also hits the ground, but not fatally. Having reached a point of relative calm they decide to hightail it back to the village. However, while in the sorcerer’s chamber Aranwe had gotten the impression that the pearl wasn’t part of the sorcerer’s normal apparatus, and might have been a recent “acquisition”, so they’ve both got the nagging suspicion that the original owner might be interested in getting it back.
[Backstory: Since he’d already stripped the surrounding land of everything valuable and ships know to steer clear, Borlan sent some of his monsters under the water in search of more plunder, where they managed to steal the magical pearl from some tritons. The giant wave wave was the first phase of their attempt to get it back, the second phase of which was going to be to call a kraken to finish pulling the tower into the sea. Since the players ended up in the “heart” of the dungeon so quickly this front never developed in play in this session. Since the wave attack, the sorcerer has been trying to use the pearl to supplement his own magic and create beefier minions than the frog people and gargoyles he’d been using in previous raids, and the sahaugin was the successful result of that plan].
I may have missed a few minor details above, e.g. they may have actually killed one of the frogs at one point, but I found it sort of an amusing inversion of the usual tropes that they were basically treating the minions as if they were nigh-invincible while the “big bad” of the dungeon went down like a chump. I think the fact that they weren’t one-shotting the minions gave them the impression that attacking them was useless, whereas a typical gamer knows that sometimes it just takes multiple hits, especially if you are getting unlucky with your damage rolls, as they were. Also, Jill didn’t realize at first that having her animal companion help with attacks makes them far more effective. I prepped the dungeon in terms of thinking “OK, how would this guy build his tower?” rather than trying to provide a specific play experience, so the fact that they stumbled into the “main chamber” right away also amused me in the play-to-find-out sense.
They seemed to enjoy the session (although Anya was very frustrated that it had to end). They both seemed a bit confused or frustrated at times, although that’s probably to be expected. In Forge-y terms, my sister-in-law seems to have a slight tendency to go all the way to the end of IIEE without leaving room for uncertainty or other elements, e.g. when setting off the smoke bomb she seemed to want to treat it as if this would definitively confuse and disorient the frogs. I’m on the hook for running another session next weekend to continue the story.