So coming from a ton of prep and D&D background style of DMing, I’m finding it hard to just run a session with a…

So coming from a ton of prep and D&D background style of DMing, I’m finding it hard to just run a session with a…

So coming from a ton of prep and D&D background style of DMing, I’m finding it hard to just run a session with a starter. Suggestions for something a bit more structured to get me over it and get a good start so my players (also major D&D trained) have a good time and not find the game too abstract?

25 thoughts on “So coming from a ton of prep and D&D background style of DMing, I’m finding it hard to just run a session with a…”

  1. My personal take is that the best way to get into Dungeon World GMing is to forgo a starter entirely and follow the ‘first session’ outline in the book. In other words, bring lots of general fantasy ideas in your head, but don’t have any preprepared content whatsoever. Ask lots of (leading) questions and build on the answers. When you get stuck, have a character provide the necessary detail. Roll with it and make GM moves when the rules tell you to.

    It’s a very different style of play and the improv-heavy nature of it can be kinda intimidating, but it can be a lot of fun once you get the flow. In a lot of ways, this is actually easier than trying to figure out how to incorporate starter material into the narrative flow of the conversation. When you give your players the leeway to largely take the reins on world-building, they get to tell you directly what they’re interested in exploring. And that might be a story none of you expected going in.

  2. Greg Cherry Level 1 DW adventurers are super-capable and can tackle pretty much the same kind of ‘content’ as level 10 DW adventurers. That’s because encounter balance is not a thing you need to worry about in this kind of fiction-first rules system. You have full flexibility to adjust the ‘hardness’ of your GM moves to develop the best story. Think dangerous, but be a fan of the characters; a TPK isn’t generally heroic, so if things get out of hand, offer some opportunities to turn the tide. It’s kinda like ‘fudging the dice’ in D&D to make things more interesting, except you don’t have to do that here, because the system gives you the freedom to choose what outcome is going to best serve your agenda and principles, as long as you follow the fiction.

  3. Thanks for all the input, running 5e for last 3 years I’ve been wanting something more narrative less looking up ranges and arguing over RAW etc. but I’ve never really homebrewed, full time job and life makes it easier to buy a campaign read it and run it. I do always work in character backgrounds and adjust to fit out groups but starting off a night of play with a few words on a piece of paper and no stat blocks or traps etc seems like I might struggle and turn my players off to what I think DW is

  4. Greg Cherry Yeah, I understand that feeling. I think of Dungeon World as a ‘gateway game’ of sorts. It has enough D&D trappings to make it seem like a low-prep, rules-light version of D&D and you can play it that way, but it definitely has the mad genius spirit of Vincent Baker in its depths. And once you open your mind to the maelstrom, who knows what you’ll find?

  5. It’s going to be a matter of my rules heavy group that loves to min/max but also develop characters is going to be ok with a lot of things being out of their hands on 6- rolls. I can hear them now…my character wouldn’t do that, or how would my fighter just drop his sword etc

  6. Greg Cherry Yeah, I feel like a lot of D&D players come into DW initially with a bit of an adversarial mindset, as D&D combat encounters are at least partly a sort of battle of wits between the party and the GM. What I’ve noticed from players who are really experienced in *World games is that they’ll basically hand you complications on a silver platter when they think it will be interesting for the story. That’s relatively unusual in D&D, where the players are supposed to be trying to ‘win’.

  7. Greg Cherry check out some of Johnstone Metzger’s DW adventures on DTRPG. They provide a ton of prep (more than I care for in my games, but the adventures are quality). Joe Banner’ shot a lot of great, evocative DW adventures, too.

    I’ve had a lot of success starting with a blank Dyson Logos map, ideally one with an evocative name, and maybe one or two likely challenges ready to spring on the party, either outside the dungeon or just inside one or two of the entrances. Then, ask questions like:

    “What are you hoping to find here? Why do you want or need to find it?” (establish motive and macguffin)

    “Who else is looking for it? Why is important to you that you find it first?” (establish time pressure and NPCs)

    “Aside from the __, what other dangers have you heard lurk inside?” (establish dangers)

    Maybe a couple other questions to (further) establish motive, the history of the dungeon, the dangers within, interested parties, etc.

    Maybe do a “flashback” Undertake a Perilous Journey (along with questions about the terrain they traversed and where they came from).

    Then do bonds, and fill in some details about the party’s past.

    Between all that, character creation, a couple encounters and some early exploration, you’ll probably fill the first session just fine. And then you can prep the next session as thoroughly as you like based on what they gave you (and what you made up, and what they really responded to).

  8. Jeremy Strandberg you guys blast this off like it’s a piece of cake! I’m used to opening a 200 page adventure with maps stats and a good idea to make the players fit. It does sound refreshing and provokes some good pieces to make people feel part of it.

  9. I’m in a very similar situation where I’m getting past the learning curve of running DW over other games. The freedom that DW offers is both liberating and intimidating when coming up with material. For myself, I’m pushing through by researching the concepts in the guides, the book, and here, then running and using the material that game play brings out to craft new fronts relevant to the PCs actions/interactions. Then rinse/repeat, rinse/repeat, and each session becomes a little more fluid. I run micro campaigns for practice. For me, kickoff is easier than continuation because I have less expectations of each new campaign.

  10. My stuff’s fun but definitely not structured in the D&D tradition 🙂 I wrote Logansfell with a good friend of mine who also plays a lot of D&D 5th – that might be useful for you?

    Like most of my adventures, it gives the seed of a setting, dangers and characters, then the onus is on you and your players to develop that into something unique. I look forward to hearing how you get on!

    Edit: link here

  11. Joe Banner I’ve had been through your blog extensively. I really like your style and layout of your campaign world. Is there a kind of general overall book of your world. Half the time I read your stuff it references gods or areas that feels like I should know, but I don’t find material that connects them. Make a campaign setting book!

  12. Joe Banner all I saw was umberto and green scar and will pick those up. It looked like you weren’t super active in creating content currently, and I’m old and don’t quite get how patreon works 🙂 ahhh, I just realized that the bundle includes softcover print copies…

  13. Greg Cherry regarding “like it’s easy,” it really can be. Really!

    I say to start with a map because maps give you a solid, concrete space to interact with. Even if it’s not a keyed map, it’s going to give you a solid framework to hang your improv on.

    Prep a couple challenges so that you’ve got something to start the ball rolling. Pick things you’re comfortable with, not necessarily mechanically but fictionally. something that you can picture how it fights, how it acts, what it wants, what it’d be like to have it come charging at in the night. Or, a trap that you can picture how it works, what triggers it, etc. Find or write up stats and monster moves and have them handy, but if you’ve thought about how they behave, how they fight, how they threaten the PCs, and where they might be encountered on the map, then you’ll find that the stats become secondary.

    Don’t worry about prepping a “balanced” or “fair” fight. Holy shit do not do that. I mean, don’t “rocks fall you die,” but prep (or improv) encounters based on what makes sense. Is there a goblin horde holed up in these ruins? Well, do they set a watch? How many goblins would be on watch? Does an apex predator, like a wyvern, stalk these woods? Does it think the PCs look like tasty, easy prey? Who cares if they can take it? It attacks! If they flee into the night, cool, follow that and see what happens!

    The questions you ask at the start of play, those are worth prepping, too. Make them provocative, with all sorts of loaded assumptions. Write them so that the answers will give you the PCs motives, and hint at backstory, and create a time pressure, and introduce a couple NPCs who may or may not show up during the adventure.

    You don’t need very much! Just enough to get the first session kicked off with a bang. And then spend some quality time digesting what they’ve given you and what they glommed on to and what you think is interesting and write up some dangers & grim portents and fill in some blanks in the dungeon before the next session.

    Before DW, I ran years of 3x and 4e. I know all about the need to prep and have balanced encounters. But DW is so much more about the fiction and playing to see what happens… it’s liberating!

    Now, your players might not actually dig it. I’ve definitely had some who didn’t. Some of them, I think, never will like it. It’s not to everyone’s tastes.

    But done right, you’ll find that it moves really smoothly, that you never wait 15 minutes for your turn to act and then roll a 3 and whiff and nothing happens. That exploration can really be as much (or more) fun than fighting. That a clever play (like dropping a crumbling watch tower on a pack of skeletal dogs) works, because of course it does, and doesn’t fizzle out because the skele-dogs all made their reflex saves or whatever.

    Jump in! The water’s great!

  14. Something you might not have considered is simply doing what’s comfortable. Do the prep you usually do, but do it with DW. Prep your monsters. Find the stats in the book and put them in your notes. Prep your starting situation. Write up some text to read to the players. Prep your villans. Write up a Front for the adventure. Do what feels natural, but do it in this new environment.

    You’ve got to learn a new game. Don’t worry about getting it all right the first time. Take it slow. 😉

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