“PASS THE DIE”
This Friday, I showed Freebooters on the Frontier to yet another a new group of players. Everyone told me they very much enjoyed the game, and there seemed to be strong interest in reconvening. One of the players, a very experienced gamer (who it turns out had in fact been a backer of “The Perilous Wild” 🙂 commented that he very much enjoyed our particular game, comparing it very favorably to Dungeon World “classic” and other games, and pointing out that he especially liked the extent to which each of the players had been involved in the story and the action. We talked specifically about this had occurred in some part due to a technique I use called “passing the die.” I thought I should share it here.
What I do is have players pass a large d6 (or other token) around the table, using it to indicate which of them will be asked to make the next “procedural” move (almost always a “Travel” move). After we resolve that move—and everything that follows directly, the die is passed to the next player.
I proposed—and we adopted—this method after noticing that certain players in each group would “claim” very regular moves that they’d be likely to succeed at. The most wise player is most often chosen to Scout Ahead. The most intelligent player always Navigates. This is fine and well within the fiction, and makes perfect sense, but more rolls means more chances to earn XP. This proved to have a pronounced effect on uneven advancement in our travel-heavy games!
Now, “passing the die” definitely tinkers with the core mechanic of Dungeon World, so I’d like to state at the onset of any discussion that my groups tend towards “collaborative improvisation.” In this style, players tend to agree that it’s OK to share control, at least to the extent that it enhances everyone’s enjoyment.
So if “the die” (or the shell, or the plastic unicorn, or whatever) indicates which player will be in the spotlight—either during the day’s travels, or on watch, or during whatever open-ended (passive, procedural) situation arises, play also passes around the table. This could be “SCOUT AHEAD” or “NAVIGATE” or “MAKE CAMP” or “STAY SHARP”, “MANAGE PROVISIONS”, “MAKE A SAVING THROW”, or whatever move seems appropriate. I’ll then tailor the fiction so it asks for the required move from the player holding the die.
To be clear, the turn-by-turn cycling does NOT necessarily mean—in the fiction or otherwise—that the “best” character isn’t really the one conducting an activity they are clearly best at. Rather, we use the fiction to focus on our “surrogate” while leaving room for other actors and agents to carry on however they imagine.
In many cases I will ask the player with the die to tell me how they become pivotal in the move of the moment. If they need help, we’ll come up with something together.
Here’s an example for SCOUT AHEAD: “As the others talk (and talk and talk) about what the scout found (or didn’t find) you [impetuous thief] grow tired of waiting and wander away to look again over the valley below. Roll +WIS to see if you notice anything out of the ordinary.”
Here’s an example for NAVIGATE. “While planning the route, there is some disagreement about which way is best. As it happens, eyes somehow turn to you [dim warrior] to cast the deciding vote. Roll+INT and let’s see what happens next…”
Here’s one for MANAGE PROVISIONS: “Have you noticed that every night this priestess cooks the same bland Northern-style food? When she asks you to watch the pot, you [clever mage] decide to ‘tweak’ the recipe a bit. Let’s see how THAT goes… Roll +WIS.”
So, as I’ve said, this method is working great for us. Dungeon World is already very good at distributing XP during typical RPG combat situations, where each character’s beefy “prime requisite” score results in lots of successes, plenty of narrative advances, and regular-enough failure. Here, the chances to roll for more individual moves are shared as well. In a sense, “non-combat fun” is also therefore more evenly shared. Aside from these mechanical aspects, I find that the play style which emerges reflects the micro-push-and-pull of real life character-driven situations in a fun and familiar way.
So that’s how and why we pass the die.
If there’s interest, I’ll post more of my thoughts on this, covering how I sometimes (objectively) ask players to use an ability that is NOT specifically the one mentioned in a given move, or how I try to “forge the fiction of failure” around the kinds of character substitutions that occur.