Last friday I had my first session as Dungeon World GM. I had played once as a player and I was very interested in trying the system. This made me ask a few questions here a few days ago and now I feel obliged to give a feedback.
Just a quick background: I’ve been playing RPGs since 1986, most of the time as a GM. GURPS, D&D (in all incarnations, but I prefer Rules Cyclopaedia or a modern retroclone, like Epèes et Sorcellerie), Savage Worlds, Barbarians of Lemuria, Dragonlance 5th Age… I’ve played them all and much more, but those were my favorites. I’m also a published RPG author and novelist. My gaming group had a brief experience with Barbarians of Lemuria but prefer Savage Worlds over it.
That said, here’s the game recap.
I’ve created some hype during the week. At first, we should just make a break in our Savage Worlds campaign and I’d GM a one-shot. I shuffled the basic playbooks, gave two to each one, and said they could keep one and exchange the other in order to see every choice. They didn’t discussed that at first, but I’d answered lots of questions. In the end, this was the party:
-Elf Ranger and her Bear
Then I asked them lots of questions, writing everything of note. Names, places, interesting tidbits of lore, source of magic (for example, I’ve found Elven magic, and maybe all magic, is in the blood, and spell-less Elves are outcasts — this was something I’d never think by myself — and the Wizard had a twin spell-less sister she was trying to find).
They found a village in ruins, scorched and burned, and found out that a kind of smoke giant caused all the trouble. The Wizard gained a follower (bodyguard) that wanted revenge on the monster, the Ranger got some info on it (the creature never entered forests, but its attacks were capable of incapacitate), and the others vowed to avenge the village. After that, they undertook a dangerous journey (good way to show them the basics of the system) and they met the smoke giant (in my book, that was a re-skinned Ogre for lack of an understanding on what could be fatal to first-level players).
The players then discovered that the smoke giant was the same one their other characters (Savage Worlds campaign on hold) had fought, but they were incapacitated. So the Ranger and her Bear struggled to find a way to put them on a safe place in the nearby woods while the others fought the creature. Basically, the battle field was:
Woods — Windmill — field by a cornfield — river — nearby hill
When the “other” characters were safe, the windmill collapsed and created a true safe spot for them. Yet, here my own troubles as a GM begun.
Well, they were not “troubles” per se. The real problem was to think of how to deal with players choosing to put themselves in a dangerous position when rolling a 7-9. If this was another game I’d have no problem in creating problems for them, but they would be more-or-less scripted problems. Here I needed to do everything “on the fly”.
And that was a fantastic creative exercise!
As the fiction (as told by the players) informed me that dangerous animals were in the vicinity, wolves were my first choice (the pack was starving due to lack of food lately and wanted to prey on the weak).
During another exchange, steam and bubbles formed on the river (show signs of a new threat)… and a player decided to take shelter and discern realities. That gave me the idea of presenting them a figure on the hill, casting spells using a chime.
Combat was exciting and they slowly depleted the smoke giant’s strength — and that was the first time they needed their Last Breath as the Ranger fell (and Death told her she would never touch the land with her feet again without the blessing of a virgin leaf, so from that moment on she needed to put leaves under her feet to stand, and that meant new leaves every day). — And, meanwhile, the party Wizard cast a magical missile toward the one on the hill, destroying the chime… he then evaded the scene…
While they tended to their wounds (and the Wizard’s follower deemed her task complete and left–my mistake here was to not include the follower on a more active role during the combat) during the night, they were ambushed by bandits (“you are trespassing and we are the deputies to the sheriff of these woods, so you must pay us taxes to camp here”). As the party was wounded and penyless, the best course of action, in their opinion, was to surrender they valuables and weapons. The bandits left, but the party sworn revenge…
And I called it a night. It was already late, so I ended the session there. But my players wanted more. They loved the system, loved their chars, and wanted to keep playing. As they were staying there that night, I told them we would continue on the next day…
…and that we did:
On the morning, a young elf approached them and explained the figure they saw on the hill was their clan’s wiseman, and he was inviting them to the clan’s home ground. They believed that was a trap, but decided to follow anyway. However, they would take a little more time to cross the distance because they needed to, at least, border some forest in order to collect virgin leaves for the Ranger. The young elf, then, dismissed them as he would follow a more direct route.
However, as their dangerous journey was on its way, they rolled well and found a shortcut through the mountains–they just needed to climb them.–And they rolled poor to be aware of dangers, so they were ambushed by orcs during the climbing. Without weapons, they were forced to retreat, losing another day. Avoiding the mountains, the Ranger then hunted for food (I’ve created a quick move: 10+ you find food for you and your party; 7-9 you find the food you need, but you must fight for it) and needed to best a boar in order to feed everyone.
Then they were ambushed by another orc tribe (symbols on them indicated the difference), and the spokesperson for the orcs was too well articulated. They fought, the Druid fell, but as he found Death as a White Stag, he was given the chance to keep his task if he beared the horns of a stag from now on–and then the horned Druid came to live once more.–But the orc leader asked for a truce during a standoff.
He told them he was in search of someone to lift the curse upon his village (and mentioned a man with a chime in his hand was responsible for that). They decided “the man with a chime” was a common threat and, as the enemy of my enemy is my friend, they followed the orc.
However he was no ordinary orc: he was the chieftain–as they soon discovered when they set foot on the village.–But the village’s shaman, a wise and strong orc woman, called him weak and unworthy, since she told them he was to blame for the curse in the first place.
You see, in the middle of the village was a large statue of an orc warrior, hands up. The shaman told them the statue once held a stone maul, but it was stolen. If the chief recovered that, the village would prosper once again.
They recovered their wounds, re-armed with the village’s blacskmith (requiring manual labor in exchange), and levelled up. Noteworthy, the Ranger took Cleric spells as her new move. Then they followed the orc chief to a nearby hollow mountain: a large swamp inhabited by lizardmen was inside, and there was a big tree with the stone maul.
They fought the lizardmen, but the Bard and the Druid died. When they were to recover the stone maul, the tree spirit appeared and told them only the worthy could take the maul… and the orc chief demanded they attacked the spirit before listening to its lies.
However, the Ranger felt the spirit told them the truth and when the orc chief opposed them, they fought. The orc chief was strong and the fight was complex, but near the end the Wizard got the stone maul and used against the orc chief. They triumphed.
Returning to the village with the prize, they put the stone maul on the statue and saw it grasp it once again. And life was good and everyone rejoiced.
You see, my players didn’t want to end there. They wanted more! I had nothing else planned, so I asked them for a few minutes to think about it–and the players whose chars died created another quickly: we soon had a Paladin and a Barbarian to join the Wizard and the Ranger. I’ve asked a few more questions, thought of something and…
…well, it was another great game. I’m sure you don’t need another recap so soon (this one was verbose enough).
TL;DR: They loved Dungeon World, and I was really impressed by the system. It never occurred to me that a system could so quickly jump to my Top #1 so easily, but this happened. They don’t consider returning to Savage Worlds and I glad we finally started a new age in my roleplaying carrer. 🙂