In recent times I found myself thinking

In recent times I found myself thinking

In recent times I found myself thinking 

“Dungeon World really works best for oldschool dungeon crawling”


What I mean are “you stand in front of a dungeon”, traps, monsters, treasure, Caves of chaos. All that stuff. 

This is not really a surprise and is what a lot of people are doing but pushing the game too far away from that basic idea has diminishing returns. You can still do it with the rules system but quite a lot of rule elements don’t really have something to latch on to if you do that. 

The sad thing is that the thing I would do with a potential next Dungeon World campaign isn’t really that. 

22 thoughts on “In recent times I found myself thinking”

  1. You are people. You will enter a dangerous “Dungeon”, beat traps monsters and dangers. You will find magical treasures that will help you defeat a greater danger. You will become heroes, willing or not.

    That’s the story you will tell with Dungeon World.

  2. Oddly, I disagree;  I find Dungeon World works better when you take it OUTSIDE the dungeon, and engage with journeys, and NPCs, and the rules for towns and the like, and that inside the dungeon, it’s hard to play according to principles like “Draw maps, leave blanks.”  It also requires a much more… fictionally complicated dungeon than many more rules heavy games, because the rules heavy games give you rules to engage with while you basically stomp from room to room to kill stuff, but Dungeon World’s lighter rules mean that all the engagement has to come from the fiction.  Which is not necessarily bad, but seems to work against the low-prep nature of Dungeon World.

    Or to put it another way, when I run an ‘outside game’ in DW, everything seems to flow into place and I don’t have to do tons of work. When I run a ‘dungeon crawl’ in DW, I feel like I need a lot more prep.

  3. That’s exactly why I put “Dungeon” between brackets. You don’t need to be underground. It doesn’t need to be a labyrinth. It could be an open plain with two tribes facing in war, a dense forest crawling with undeads. You can have nothing but brainless monsters or highly intellectual NPC best to be faced talking than fighting… yet the underlying narrative structure will not change.

    You will overcome said difficulties, win the tools for your quest and become heroes, whether you realize to be on a quest or not, whether you are “good guys” or not.

    The ur-example of this narrative are the Dragonlance books.

    I (and I believe Tim, too) am saying this without any qualitative judgment, but with a perfectly neutral, matter of fact, stance. DW does this, and does it well, as straightforward as a train.

    If you want to engage in this kind of narrative or not, if you consider it “high” or “low” is not of my concern here.

  4. I’m a little confused.   Are you just saying “Dungeon World works well in games where there is an obstacle”?  If so, that doesn’t seem like a very helpful observation.

    It also doesn’t seem like what Tim was talking about at all?

  5. The one difference between Dungeon World and 70s D&D is that DW gives you experience for failing, thereby encouraging you to do things. Early D&D encouraged you to avoid combats, conserve resources and be averse to risks, thereby encouraging you to be boring. 🙂 

  6. Mike Pureka I think the problem is our vision of a dungeon is warped by dnd. You feel you need the rooms and the maps and the encounters in each room.

    Just think of the dungeon as the wilderness maybe with some steadinds. Well that part of the cave is actually a dwarven village. There is no stopping you from using perilous journeys in the dungeonand having interesting npcs be in the dungeon. Fronts to are in the dungeon.

    Its sll really about changing our perception of what the dungeon is.

  7. james day

    Well, like I said before, I don’t think “Any space with a selection of obstacles” is a particularly useful definition of the word “dungeon” – we have a word for this already.  It’s called an “adventure”. So I don’t think my definition is ‘warped by D&D’ – that implies that my definition has somehow diverged from the original (Which I guess it has, but only because the original definition was “a place to lock up your prisoners”) which I don’t think is the case.  It sounds like Ezio Melega is advocating a different definition, which is all well and good, but I definitely don’t think that’s the definition I would use in the context of “old school dungeon crawling” which is, after all, how this conversation got started.

  8. I used “Dungeon” because it’s a common term but, yes, in this instance the world has a totally redefined meaning. It’s a legacy term used for its familiarity, not to be taken at face value.

    Feel free to substitute my use of the world “Dungeon” with “adventure” or “location/s full of challenges”.

  9. IMHO, DW is strongest on combat action, fair on exploring and discovery, and weak on social interaction.  Fortunately, it does provide a great base for adventure RPGs that is open and easy to hack.

    Tim Franzke Rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, have you considered hacking the elements you feel are not up to your needs?

  10. DW is a story game first and foremost. Stories are conflict – without conflict there is no story. The type of conflict defines the type of story.

    DW tries to tell stories with mostly physical conflict. Because

    — It emulates DnD which started as a war game.

    — It emulates the fantasy literature that inspired DnD.

    That does not mean there can’t be other types of conflict. There can. DnD and hence DW were written for it. That is why characters have wisdom and charisma too. But the physical conflict rules do overwhelm.

    So if you want a game with a different focus, just write a few custom moves that tip the scales the other way. Make physical conflict more deadly etc.

    Or play Fiasco.

  11. Mike Pureka​ because that’s what you will get.

    Maybe you will be on open air, in infested forests in crawling cities but that’s will just be a bit of color. The substance of the narration will be the one tied strongly with trapped and monster-inhabitates subterraneans (aka “Dungeons”).

    You can crawl in a literal dungeon infested by goblins and their insidious spring trap, or maybe you can move from a palace of the city to the other, kidnapping the Lord Protector and battling his guards.

    The narrative scheme will be the same, the substance of your produced story will not change: you will crawl along your (often multiple-choice) path, in a long dungeon (as defined), gather what you need, compete the quest (probably by means of physical violence), become heroes.

    If you are surrounded by rock or wood is just a matter of details: you will get this kind of story through a “dungeon crawling” experience.

  12. Okay, I’m going to drop out of this discussion, because every time I ask a question, the answer I get is “Well, if you just redefine to mean then it all makes sense.”

    Thanks.  I’m just going to close with: I don’t agree with the effort to redefine the word “Dungeon” in order to try to make the inaccurate statement that Dungeon World is best for “old school dungeon crawls” make sense.

  13. I don’t know, I’m inclined to agree with Mike Pureka on his initial point (Not to drag you back in here).

    The way our current game is going, we’re doing a little old school delving of our own. I’m using some of the previews from perilous journeys to help generate the themes and attempting to wing it as much as possible, but I feel like I need more prep than usual. Could be the direct room-to-room map making aspect or something else, I’m not sure. I found myself looking to my notes a lot more (and not really helping because hell if I actually have anything useful written down!). Maybe it’s a group by group thing.

    Heck, right after the session one player was asking what the point of charisma was as a stat. It hasn’t been THAT long since we encountered a non-monster, you guys!

  14. Well that was my point really, players only see monsters as monsters and not things that they might be able to talk to. A clever player could find out what the monster wants and Parley with them but for some reason swords are the only way people see as a solution

  15. Im actually going to answer Mike Pureka properly this time and I hope this was what Tim Franzke was getting here. Jf not this is my take on why DW is good at dungeon crawling.

    So we need to understand the pinacle of dungeon crawling and I think after reading a lot of articles about mega dungeons I have a new apriciation on this stuff. Dungeon Crawling old school style was about the players having a choice on how to proceed and what to do. Basically the players had a few things that made them think differently. They were squishy and could die, gold gave them experience, and the dungeon would be lethal with traps. This made players be careful and see monsters as not a fight but maybe a potential ally or something to run away from.

    DW I think allows you that choice ss well through its machanics, everything if you stat it up right is possible. You as a player can choose what to do in the dungeon and throuhh its machanics dw has said it has meaning.

    I would actually like to see a megadungeon tried in Dungeon World to be honest and see how it goes

  16. A lot of the subsystems in DW start to fall apart of become less interesting if you aren’t dungeon-delving.  Rations, bandages, spell prep, ammo, adventuring gear… any sort of exhaustible resource.  If you’re playing in a situation where that stuff doesn’t matter (because it’s an urban game and you can pretty easily replace it, or because you’re making quick forays into the dungeon and can easily retreat to safety), a lot of those resources and the subsystems around them become less meaningful.  Even HP become less important.

    Likewise, a lot of the subtle-but-awesome things about the game’s design don’t become apparent until you play for a few sessions with the same characters.  You start to care about elements of the world beyond “win the fight/get the loot/survive” and that makes the grim portents and impending dooms and stakes questions much more compelling.  

    The grim portents then add a time pressure, which feeds back into the resource mechanics, and makes for difficult but meaningful decisions… do we stay in the sprawling ruins and try to stop this threat, even though we’ve got no more bandages or rations?  Do we try to get the third sacred seed or press on to the wizard’s tower without it, because things are getting bad out here and we need to stop it soon.  

    For these elements to kick in, your game needs a few things:

    – You need to leave civilization behind, not have easy access to safety or resources

    – You need to be going someplace dangerous, where things are actively going to try to kill you

    – The transition between safe place and dangerous place must be non-trivial

    – There need to be active, responsive threats with agendas that continue beyond just threatening the PCs

    – You need characters (and players) invested in the larger world –NPCs, steadings, future ambitions, etc.

    Dungeon World’s mechanics don’t force this kind of game. You can play games that don’t have all of them. But when they’re all there, that’s when the game really shines.  

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