So does anyone have any general advice for prepping an open table Dungeon World game?

So does anyone have any general advice for prepping an open table Dungeon World game?

So does anyone have any general advice for prepping an open table Dungeon World game? As an open table, the game needs to accommodate a potentially completely different roster of players turning up from session to session, which means I want a place of relative safety from which expeditions can be mounted to nearby sites of adventure.

I have some ideas for the basic setting:

I’ll be using my bonds-on-cards idea (or flags) to handle the rotating cast of players:

I’m now wondering how much of the world to prep in advance, vs. building on player answers. I’m happy to do the latter, but the open table structure means that players are going to be rattling around in a world they’re sharing with others who aren’t at the table. After a while, elements of the setting will get nailed down anyway, probably by someone who isn’t at the table when it comes up again. Should the first players have the freedom to define everything (within the parameters of leading questions), and later players/sessions become more static and pre-defined?

28 thoughts on “So does anyone have any general advice for prepping an open table Dungeon World game?”

  1. Whenever someone comes into the table for the first time I would get them to make a location, and a legend in the world. Maybe keep the location a single steading or wizards tower etc.

  2. Rainforest Giant the Greybark group seems to have a few cool procedures to build the world:

    * Players can submit rumours which percolate in the setting until they’re explored.

    * Players can nominate “persistent elements” at the end of each session which they want written into the larger setting.

    james day yes, I have something like that – each player describes some place in the world that existed before their city jumped centuries into the future (see the setting doc), and they can speculate about how it might have changed in the mean time.

  3. I currently run an open campaign:

    I gave them a starting location (much like yours) but didn’t give it much background. Over the course of weeks the campaign map has grown from a small bay, a large forest, many rivers and now a city to the north. Each time a new player visits we write up new Bonds and let them add new areas to the world to describe where their character came from.

    If you’re showing that doc of yours to new players, heavily edit it. They have to learn all the rules of DW as well as process all of your setting. That’s way too much. You’re also in danger of spending each session getting new players ready whilst alumni players get very bored. It gets interesting as soon as the Bonds conversation happens, but up to that point, briefing a new player means you completely ignore those players who have stuck with you – or get stuck in a world building session every time. Make that process as fast as possible. Let your alumni players do the leg work of introducing the world – they’re the ones who have carved out their identity in it. The alumni players are the ones who are going to carry your open table game forwards, don’t make it a chore for them to meet new players.

  4. With a single GM running open-roster sessions, you should be able to do this. I’d recommend reading:

    This is Ben Robbins’ explanation of his experiment, which also served as a major inspiration for the West Marches RPG show on

    Greybark was a great experiment, and i learned a lot with it. Where Greybark differed quite a bit from what you’re looking at was our effort to have multiple GMs working in collaboration, and passing information about sessions between each other to build the campaign “canon”. This became quite a difficult task, as it required a lot of behind-the-scenes communication. With a single GM, you’ll have better recall of past events and be able to deliver more-consistent play experiences regardless of the roster that attends any session.

    The biggest piece of advice i can contribute would be to find a balance that lets players see their actions influence the developing world WITHOUT developing so much backstory and lore that new players have an intimidating amount of homework to undertake just to get a grasp of the setting.

    As Rainforest Giant mentioned, one way we did this was that we let players assert anything they wanted about their background, and do whatever they wanted during play, but we had the understanding that at the end of a session, each player got to nominate one thing that would become “canonical lore” and was true – everything else might be true, or might be barroom exaggeration….

    This let us give the players direct influence over what went into the setting lore, and also gave the GMs and other players a clear indicator of what each player finds interesting within any particular setting. I found the nomination process, developed as an end-of-session move that awarded 1 XP for a nomination (in lieu of the party-wide “did we learn something new about the world?” question) worked a LOT better than simply asking “What did you like about the session?”

    When i set about preparing a new session, for whoever was coming in, i would read through these past notes and publicly post a few prompts based off of them. When we sat down to play, i’d let my players discuss those prompts and come up with whatever direction they wanted to take, and we could quickly discuss any NPCs, locations, etc that all the players needed to know for THIS session, without requiring that they know about irrelevant lore.

    This meant players didn’t need to know every detail; whether the throne room was down the hall to the left or to the right last time, when we get there this time we can play it as feels right, and if it doesn’t match a previous session’s “facts” then perhaps those characters’ wine-soaked memories aren’t that reliable, eh?

  5. Aaron Steed no, that doc is more like a half-written dungeon starter… the Questions and Impressions are notes to me as the GM, not something that the players need to read. So the only thing players would get would be part of the opening paragraph, plus perhaps the list of half-a-dozen “memories” to help set the scene for what happened on Thousand Night.

    Andrew Fish thanks for the extra details! I like the idea of replacing the “did you learn something significant about the world” group question into a per-player “nominate one persistent element” action. I’ve read Ben Robbin’s original West Marches post, but I believe that was 3rd ed D&D, so questions of how much narrative control to allow the players aren’t really applicable.

    @both of you – how much did you populate your wilderness map in advance? I believe the original West Marches campaign would have started with a fully-populated wilderness map with all the locations sitting there waiting to be triggered by the players. Aaron, you said that the campaign map has grown from a small bay, so I infer that you didn’t have pre-prepped adventure sites ready to go, and built each location at the table? Andrew, it sounds like each session you’d incorporate whichever of the persistent elements that the party was most interested in, so that also implies that you were mostly fleshing out the contents of the world on the fly?

  6. Robert Rendell – most of our world elements were developed on the fly.

    In the first session, we determined that we were in a forest full of greybark trees, and then figured out what the hell those were. It all expanded from there.

    For the first couple months, we incorporated quite a bit of what happened in-game into our notes, put together a map, and even used the Funnel World rules to get a group of players at our weekly community meeting to develop a map of our central town.

    Once we developed the Persistent Elements move, we quit automatically adding details to the world. During a session, if a player nominated an item for persistent, it got added. If a GM nominated an item, it got added. And then the GM would typically post a very brief recap of the session, particularly to give context to the Persistent Elements.

    When i would sit down to GM a subsequent session, i had carte blanche to make new settings or use old ones, and not worry about their impact on the larger world unless a player specifically liked it enough to nominate it.

  7. This is very interesting to read about. Here’s what I had been planning:

    – The table would be truly open, in that anyone would be allowed to GM, and set their own times. Individual GMs could take ownership of certain places or front for either one-shots or short campaign-lets. There would be a head GM who would help to keep everything organized.

    – The map would start with just a few zones explored, and a few sites of interest, but nothing mapped beyond that. Session reports would add to the map.

    – Adventures happen in real-time. That is, if you travel three days to a site, adventure for one day, then take three days to go home, your character is out of action for that week.

    – Running quests for the people in the base town would unlock more features for the town.

  8. Peter J I like the idea of unlocking features of the town (like in Stonetop), but adventuring in town could be a problem in an open table game because there needs to be a fairly safe and static place for the characters to hang around in when their players aren’t around.

    Also, you mention fronts… that’s something else I’m not sure how to use in an open table game. Fronts are proactive, but I think the environment in this style of game probably need to be more reactive… I have some thoughts about maybe having “personal fronts” tied to individual characters that only advance when that character is out in the wilderness, but they’re largely unformed at this stage.

    Rainforest Giant yes, makes sense.

  9. Fronts work fine. Though it depends on the size of the group, you definitely need them for a small group as they turn to you for answers more often.

    I usually have at least 3 vague fronts sketched out based on the previous games. More like threats to the area. It just helps to bring something along in case the session hits a lull and something bad needs to turn up.

  10. Aaron Steed interesting. What do you do with a front where some of the grim portents get ticked off, but then the party returns to town and the next session occurs with none of those characters?

  11. I have lots of Fronts that go partially used or don’t even make it into a session. I treat them like foreshadowing. If the players involved return, then we can continue exploring that old Front or look at new ones.

    A Front that you join half-way through or goes silent for a while feels a bit more realistic. A bad guy’s plans can get stalled by something or the party finds out an evil plot is already underway. It means the campaign is a living world. I just make sure I write up at least two new ones per session – I don’t need to use them, they’re just slow burning events I can call on to liven things up a bit.

  12. Aaron Steed I guess each front’s Impending Doom isn’t so large-scale that it will disrupt the world for everyone else if it comes to pass? More like “this necromancer finishes setting himself up in the ruined keep and will be really tough to dislodge” rather than “the Dark Lord covers the world in a second darkness”?

    (Apologies for the bombardment of questions – hopefully you’re still enjoying the conversation 🙂

  13. I use a lot of small-scope Fronts that can tie into larger Fronts. Sometimes edit them between sessions.

    To be honest I’m a lot happier running it organically compared to the static campaigns I’ve run or been in. If someone doesn’t turn up or a new player brings a different angle of play to the table then I can roll with it instead of cursing my prep.

  14. I try to keep the front-loading down to zero, let the map and the world develop organically. Like others, I try and have each new player add a site or steading to the campaign map. I’m still trying to figure out how best to use Bonds in these kinds of games (I don’t like using Flags). I’m considering making Bonds reset at the start of each session, and have each player establish only 1 Bond with someone else. And that Bond will need to have an “I will” clause in it. If they hit that clause during the session they’ll mark an XP.

  15. Maybe have bonds be a bit more proactive, since a lot of old and new players will come into the game and they are adventuring. Well you will want to know more about the people you are adventuring with.

    So bonds would look more like: “I want to know the wizards secret on this mission” when you know it, bam you get an XP.

  16. Lots of great discussion here!

    My recommendation on fronts is to not let the list grow so unwieldy that it’s unmanageable. I’d recommend developing at most 3-5 “campaign” fronts, with their own Impending Dooms and Grim Portents. And i agree that the grim portents should only advance when at least some of the players in the current session are invested in that particular front.

    For ad-hoc sessions, I like to write up a Dungeon Front that is expected to be resolved within a single session. After its resolution, I look for ways that this might tie back into a campaign front, and then update those fronts with new dangers/cast/scope as appropriate.

    I imagine this parallels Aaron Steed ‘s idea of small-scale and large-scale fronts.

    This lets the players in any given session feel that their play time was worthwhile, as they resolved something NOW. And it gives players who return to play again a sense of satisfaction that their previous sessions had real impact on the world, as the changing fronts will let them see returning issues, NPCs, etc, as shaped by their persistent elements.

    james day also touches on something that we changed from DW RAW – bonds. We permitted characters to have as many as 3 bonds with any other character. At the start of each session we asked each player to give a BRIEF description of their character, from the frame of “What would someone who has shared a drink with you, or overheard your tales at the bar, know about you?” And after a round of these, each player could write a new bond with a character, as needed.

    During the end-of-session moves, we rewarded a point if you (A) wrote a bond with a new character, OR (B) resolved an existing bond. This was done to encourage players to really engage their fellows in that session, and seemed to work well.

  17. The easiest open table game I”ve played in my 35 years of gaming is super heroes. Because contrivance is so baked into the setting and quick, fast, sometimes faster than modern, transportation is readily available. AS is communications.

    So, in a fantasy situation, I would suggest that a portal network and long distance scrying and communications are pretty accessible to the player characters. Allowing for insertion and leaving of storylines as needed.

  18. Storn Cook I tried a portals theme for a series of open table games in D&D. What I found is that the more you can travel, the less you get to know people. So it was exciting, but there was next to no character development.

    I had a lot more success in DW showing the campaign-map-with-blanks to a new player and asking them to add to it. They belonged there and had control over the history.

    I do love Planescape style situations with neighbouring planes though. I’ll probably explore that soon now the world is settling.

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