Last weekend I GM’ed my second-ever DW game with my group of mostly-new-to-RPG players, and with no experience and…

Last weekend I GM’ed my second-ever DW game with my group of mostly-new-to-RPG players, and with no experience and…

Last weekend I GM’ed my second-ever DW game with my group of mostly-new-to-RPG players, and with no experience and five players it was both exhausting and exhilarating to do, because of all the mental multi-tasking and improvising it required from me.

There were two situations I think I handled badly that I would like to get some feedback from more experienced GMs on, if possible.

First, I did not just want to throw endless slugfests, so I tried to set up enemies with annoying, even life-threatening moves that had to be ‘solved’ in other ways than just brute force: e.g. a tiny 1HP, blood-sucking, stun-inducing bampf lizard that when hit by anything immediately teleports away undamaged to another player, that was controlled by a magic object hidden nearby that needed to be found and destroyed.

In the end this worked out quite well (they threw the object away instead of destroying it, so I spontaneously had to decide on whether there was a range-effect involved, etc. etc.), but the thing is that by the end there were only two party members left unstunned. Instead of this giving my players a sense of major stakes (a la the 16 HP dragon), and a satisfying feeling of danger overcome, it turns out that the stunned party members just kinda felt left out of the fight, and started zoning out during the gameplay. (Which because of my inexperience probably also took much more wallclock time than it should’ve.)

Does anyone have any specific tips and tricks for course-correcting something like this when you see it happening halfway through, without it coming across as the GM again just starting to make arbitrary God decisions?

My second problem was coming up with 6- moves to make when my players kept rolling low. Yeah, I know about Suddenly Ogres, and I know I can sometimes just say “no, sorry, turns out you don’t remember anything relevant to this mysterious inscription after all”, but you can’t keep doing that without things derailing completely (or at least I couldn’t).

So again, does anybody have any generic tips and tricks for dealing with this? I suppose I could try and predict some likely situations in advance of the session (i.e. I told them about the inscription, so I could have been better prepared for a failed Spout Lore), but that also smacks too much of them following my ‘designed world’ on rails rather than discovering stuff together.

I realise that the the above is perhaps all a bit too vague, and that the answer may boil down to simply “you will get better at this over time”. But I thought I’d ask anyway.

10 thoughts on “Last weekend I GM’ed my second-ever DW game with my group of mostly-new-to-RPG players, and with no experience and…”

  1. 1. I tend not to apply conditions that remove the ability to actually play. If you want to “stun” someone, tell them they’re seeing double and stumbling around – they can totally swing at that thing if they want, but there’s a distinct possibility of hitting a friend. Offer them options “maybe you can distract the guard by yelling. you don’t have to be able to see to do that”

    2. Coming up with good consequences will always be hard. Here’s some tricks I use:

    * Have them think outloud. In a recent game, the PCs lit the front of a church on fire and were going around a side door. They checked the door to see if it was warm, and I responded, confused “It is not. The fire is at the front of the church. What were you looking for?” / “Well, backdrafts. I don’t want a small spread of the fire to result in a big explosion when we open the door.” THIS WAS AN AWESOME IDEA. So the next failure that was made while planning to enter… boom, backdraft.

    * Always consider their intent, not just the task at hand. They might be fighting goblins at the moment, but their intent is really to get across the rope bridge to escape. 6- rolls might have a goblin deflect an attack and sever one rope of the rope bridge! Perhaps the Big Bad they are trying to capture starts chanting what the wizard knows is a teleportation spell while they flounder around fighting his lackies. Or maybe the hostage they’re trying to rescue shows his hand and begins fighting against them when they fail a roll to sneak through the halls quietly.

    * Consequences don’t have to be linked to the task they fail on. This is one of the best tricks. In my backdraft example above, the failed roll was actually a cleric healing a bleeding forehead cut that was obscuring the vision (I gave him -1 ongoing to all rolls where vision matters). Cleric botched the roll, but I had the spell go off fine, right as they opened the door, which produced a big fiery backdraft, resulting in some harm and the cleric forgetting the spell.

    * When in doubt, ask the players for a good consequence. “You succeed, but something bad also happens. Tell me what!”

  2. Aaron Griffin Thanks, those examples of real-life play are very useful! The idea of using a 6- to have effects not immediately related to the move itself did occur to me, but I simply could not manage it on the spur of the moment — it would have meant too many balls in the air for me, and I’m not playing with fronts or anything like that yet. I’ll definitely try harder to make that kind of solution work next time.

  3. My players are so good at thinking of much worse consequences. Sometimes I have to dial them back. For magical consequences we have a bag of spell mishaps which we all add to and I draw from if necessary.

  4. Yes, I think you planned on having a player or two get stunned for a couple of moments, but then what turns out is that you end up with 40 minutes of game play on this epic “fight” with a tiny lizard that 3 of the players mostly miss out on.  

    There is another option that I would have gone with over the knocking them out, albeit the other suggestion about them being dazed/confused is good.  I would have used the move splitting the party.  If the lizardy thing has the ability to “magically transport” why not then make it so they transport the ones it bites to another place – a dangerous place, another plane, etc.  Then you will have one part of the party dealing with lizard and the other half in who-knows where doing something else that you can keep jumping back and forth between every 5-10 minutes (and with new members “showing” up with the other guy after some time, it makes it even more interesting). 

    The thing to remember with the 6- is to always have it fit the fiction.  When you describe something, have it come back to get them.  The party having to deal with the environment changing is always fun.  

  5. For what it’s worth, this aspect of DMing Dungeon World is a genuine skill you need to practice.  The game asks a lot of the DM in that moment:  “make a move!  anything you like!”   I think we probably all felt like we screwed it up a lot the first time we ran the the game.

    Five players is also a lot:  I think the game runs better with three or four.

    As for suggestions, my post from last week has the sheet of generic idea prompts I keep at hand during play.  I think it has a bunch of useful suggestions:

    Also, what Aaron Griffin said: when you draw a blank, don’t be afraid to ask the players why that failure was bad.  Maybe don’t ask the player who failed — but go ahead and ask everyone else.  It may not be Heroic DMing, but it’s better than dead airtime, and sometimes they’ll astonish you with evil brilliance.

  6. Not easy to deal it with it DW-style. It takes time. But it helped me a lot to

    1) stick to a clear sequence of soft / hard moves on failures. 

    2) While narrating battles, rolls should be kept as varied as possible. Encourage them to use the environment for damage, and knowledge to bypass / overcome the foes defenses. 

  7. I totally agree with Colin’s comment about it being much easier with only 3-4 players. With 5 (or 6!) the time between an individual player’s “turns” starts to really get egregious, and it dilutes their involvement.

    I’ve also found, as mentioned above, that the absolute easiest way to offload the GMing workload is to constantly let the players know “If you have a cool idea for this failure, tell me!” They never treat this as an excuse to soften the failure, but they do frequently come up with failures that — while bad — also push the story towards something they want to see, which helps you know where their interests lie.

  8. One way I prepared was by reading other people’s play by post games.  It showed me how others handle failure and gave me a vast set of ideas for complications to throw in the run.  

    ArchAngel3d had this run back in 2012. which sold me on trying Dungeon world. (Players had asked about it but it had never clicked for me until I read that series of posts.  Then I was in love.)

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