Need advice for running DW with non-ideal / standard RL constraints…

Need advice for running DW with non-ideal / standard RL constraints…

Need advice for running DW with non-ideal / standard RL constraints…

We have a group of 6 or so (problem 1) at work that started playing 5e D&D during 1 hour blocks of time at lunch 3x/week (problem 2). After a semi-conclusion (first Bosses in a module were taken care of), the DM wanted a break from DM-ing, and one of the players wanted to drop out, so I suggested we try DW, thinking its flexibility would lend itself more easily to our two problem areas.

Side note: In an attempt to start things off with some buy-in, I followed the formula outlined here: I had them initial next to the ones they wanted, and passed them around, and we went with the majority (but I kept a few other suggestions, like undead) in mind. They chose to explore an overgrown necropolis that lies in a tropical jungle seeking the cathedral of a fallen god. They are here to seek forbidden knowledge guarded by crazed cultists and a criminal mastermind.

Now, problem 1: I think one session in the 5 sessions we’ve had, every player was in attendance. I don’t expect this pattern to change, and my strategy to adapt so far is to declare “game on” as long as we have 3 of the 5 (maybe soon to be 6) players (plus myself). So far, this hasn’t been a real problem, but it tends to stretch the fiction. (Why wasn’t the barbarian leading the charge into the next room, and instead enters mid-way into the fray?) Encounters taking longer than one of our 1-hour sessions seem to be unavoidable, especially with some inherent unpredictability in DW combat. I’m really not looking forward to the “make camp” move, because it really wouldn’t make sense for a character or two to just be “lagging behind/distracted by butterflies/fire/whatever”, and if their characters are just sleeping, and I threaten the party as they make camp (I mean, they’re going to make camp in the dungeon, they’re kind of asking for it). What kinds of things can we do to address this inconsistency?

Problem 2: probably the easiest to address, but with our sessions limited (pretty strictly) to one hour blocks (during which we must also have lunch), what can we do to capture the suggested flow of a DW “session”? So far, I’ve started with a PvE type encounter just outside the dungeon (portray a dangerous world), then some guards outside the entrance, and now they’re in the first room (so far, an hour and a half — I may have spawned too many skeles on ’em…). This has taken 4 1-hour sessions (with a half hour of the characters doing some PC vs. PC stuff for half of one, but hey, 3 bonds fulfilled), and a few of them have enough exp to level up (one maybe straight to level 3). I had another encounter planned before the boss / cathedral, but this 4 hour mark seems to be where standard DW would say to trigger the “End of Session”. That’s really my question: in a series of disjointed 1-hour blocks, with occasional players drifting in and out, how do I know when to do the “End of Session” stuff?

Bonus problem: My cleric (‘s player) doesn’t feel very useful, even after/during the encounter with skeletons – and I can understand why, he just does his “turn undead” move, and stands there not getting hit and providing minimal protection to other characters he’s adjacent to. I thought this would be my “be a fan of the players” thing for him, but it was very underwhelming as it played out. I’m aware of a Priest playbook out there somewhere that’s supposed to improve on the cleric mechanically, but would rather stick with the core one if I can. Advice?

I know this is a bit of a ramble, so edits and updates are likely… Thanks in advance!

15 thoughts on “Need advice for running DW with non-ideal / standard RL constraints…”

  1. One campaign I played in had a mechanic where characters faded into and out of the mist pervading the land unpredictably; this was very useful for smoothing over continuity problems when circumstances are like yours.

  2. Regarding combat and player utility in general, it’s helpful to remember that DW is fiction first. This means there is no such thing as a ‘combat encounter’ per se and you can choose to zoom in/out on combat as just one flavor of danger. If it starts to become uninteresting, let the battle end and fast forward. You all have a lot of power to shape the fiction and situations can resolve without burning through all the monster HP.

    If the Cleric feels sidelined, encourage them to be more assertive in their fictional positioning. They should feel awesome in their capacity to make the undead cower, opening up opportunities that might not otherwise come up.

  3. Regarding end of session, I think that’s the hardest thing to reconcile with ultra-short and inconsistent sessions. It came up as an issue in the campaign I played in, as well, when some people had to leave sessions early.

    The biggest problem is that it prevents you from meaningfully progressing/discussing bonds (though new DW players often don’t know what to do with bonds anyway, so maybe not too much of a problem) and the end-of-session XP incentives don’t take effect.

    I think the best solution is to hack out the ‘end of session’ move and replace it with different XP incentives. I don’t have any good alternatives in mind at the moment, but I’ll ponder it.

  4. All great, Dan, Thanks a ton for your thoughtful responses. Something like the supernatural mist sounds fine. For the second bit, I admit I’m new to being MC in DW, and have already told my group that this first adventure is more D&D-like than I’d prefer, but it’s a way for all of us to just get used to the new mechanics (among other nuances). As to your last response (End of Session), a thought I had was to just allow bonds/alignment to resolve at the end of a (one hour) session, or just instead of ticking that box, and getting the exp later, they can just get the exp immediately. The one (default) exp plus one for each of the questions to reflect on could just be done at the end of the relevant adventure, or even off-table (we use a channel on the company’s chat app where the DM posted exp after each encounter in the D&D game). This takes a bit away from the “conversation” feel of DW, but the End of Session stuff is specifically a meta-conversation, which I feel would be fine in a chat. (it worked out fine when I used it to ask more questions after our one hour first session.) I’m also looking into ideas I heard about on the Discern Realities podcast to replace Bonds with Flags, and Alignment with Ideals – but that’s for later.

  5. I think Flags is a very good idea for this kind of setup, especially if you just reward XP on the spot for it. For the other end-of-session questions, perhaps take a D&Dish approach and attach XP rewards to particular milestones of interest.

  6. I have what I think is a great strategy for play groups like this. Use a classic dungeon delve instead of the open world scenario. At the end of every session, ask the players for some colorful descriptions of what happens on the way back to town. Every session now begins back at the tavern/in the temple/in the village square/etc. Players who are not present can be said to have found other engagements for that session. Newcomers can jump in easily.

  7. I think your player is trying to run a DW character like a 5E character, which is really two completely different things. So, I don’t think it’s a mechanical issue. I think the player just needs to think beyond his sheet a bit, which can be difficult if you’re used to the bells & whistles of codified powers.

    That said: I would play up how Cleric’s belief system shapes his actions. What is his agenda outside his combat roll? Is he “spreading the light of Ga?” Or is he “seeking vengeance against the Cult of Xathosis?” Our own Cleric was played as a level-headed, soft-spoken peacemaker who bravely aided his group. He morphed into a combat hound who used his fists when things got rough, almost as if he’d been repressing this hidden anger. He died heroically (and comically, as it turned out), when he severely botched a roll to leap across a wide chasm to help a group mate who’d made a leap to the other side to take on a bad guy, and ended up mortally wounded in the attempt (“I’ll save you!” [snake eyes] “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh [wile e. coyote crash somewhere in the deep dark below.”

    Your cleric player can do more than just turn undead. DW is about making decisions and acting on them, not just the widgets you use (which is much more a 5E thing). Know what our wizard was known for, as much as throwing fireballs and casting invisbility? Climbing trees, and leaping off them (often ineptly) into combat. Nothing at all to do with his PC sheet.

    Your one-hour sessions probably make it hard to get a roll going, but I feel like pushing the idea of “What does your CHARACTER do?” is the way to approach all things DW. That, and limiting any roll bonuses to +3, to keep things ever dangerous and interesting.:-)

  8. Maezar It’s an interesting idea, but unless I boiled each encounter down to a move or two per player, there’s just no way we could finish a tiny 3 “room” dungeon, let alone the standard 5 (what I’ve planned for this first session/adventure). I could easily see it being fun for a group that has the standard 4 (or so) hours to play, but has no idea who’ll be able to make the next session. I just bought all 3 of Dyson’s Cartographic Reviews, so I’ve got about 200 (awesome-looking, many OSR-style delve-y) maps with flavor text around them. (Yes, I know the maps should have “blanks”, but it’s easier for me to modify existing maps on the fly than come up with a cohesive one from scratch — though I may try something like the “Labyrinth move” for their next adventure).

    Dan Bryant I’m interested in the fiction / mechanics that was used with the mist idea to let the missing characters get right back into the action, somehow following the party along the way (especially tricky if the party is split) without taking advantage of it. I was thinking about just introducing a ubiquitous (maybe?) magic item (trinket) that people use to stay near traveling companions. Say, a type of stone that can be attuned to others (when making camp?), and when in mist form, the world appears foggy and void, save for the other stones, appearing as glowing lights they would presumably follow. I mentioned the potential for abuse, as I could see a character wanting to use mist form to, say, scout ahead or cheekily avoid environmental hazards (tunnel too narrow? no problem, I just wait until I shift into mist form… and yes, there’s a “golden opportunity” for waiting, but I’d rather not resort to that).

    Charles Eichman Thanks for the tips, but I’m not so sure my player is the type to really get that into his character. Part of it, I’m sure, is that we’re playing in public, sometimes just a table away from business-types in suits having a lunchtime meeting, so any yelling or typical rambunctiousness is going to be frowned upon – though believe me, there are rounds of laughter at each session, and plenty of strange looks. After watching the first session on YouTube of Adam running a game, I was excited to let the players do some world-crafting (which gave me TONS to work with, and felt super fun), so naturally, I asked the Cleric the name of his god, and, if he liked, to sketch out as much of the pantheon as he liked… All I got after a weekend of letting them think about it (that is one great thing about having a lot of short sessions) was, well, nothing really – when pressed for at least the name of his god, he chose the name of an instant coffee another co-worker had on his desk, so we have our god of Knowledge and Hidden Things… Kopiko. The druid (previous DM in the D&D game) offered that this cathedral to a fallen god could be the god of magic (as there is no wizard in the party, so what’s the place of arcane magic in the world…), going for a Mystra from FR type trope.

    An interesting exercise would be to put the campaign on hold after the first adventure, and try “Funnel World”, where they each get 3 0-level ‘characters’, to just take away the distracting parts of the character sheet (I haven’t read the book, just heard about it on the DR podcast). I also have a hunch it’s just a weak spot in the system, where we’ve got a paladin that seems pretty OP, a druid that practically 1-shots things by spending hold, an immolator, and a barbarian (no need to point out the fun the last two are having in an admittedly combat-heavy adventure). Obviously, I could simply do some more prep to have knowledge and hidden things for him to find, but to be more in the spirit of DW, it should be more like pointed questions for him to fill in the blanks – but from the first session, I’m guessing that will lead to an “I don’t know”, and in the interest of making the most of our short session, I’ll just want to move on, to keep things flowing.

    Again, thanks for all of your responses.

  9. This is a really great post! The concerns & comments are great – I GM’d my first session recently and i am deeply rooted in the D&D of old, Since I’m older now, an “Adult With a Life”, it was liberating, yet frightening. I have a “Skills & Powers” sort of background, and with narrative first style games, I’ve found my old munchkin habits getting the better of me, which is to the detriment of the game, imo. These are great tips for the meta of DW and help me translate from the old way of thinking to the new.

    So, maybe not so much a useful, but encouraging, response? I am very interested in hearing more on this subject, is what it comes down to, I guess, 😀

  10. Charles Gatz​ We didn’t worry about balance/abuse so much, as we were all used to Dungeon World and Pbta in general, where making an interesting choice is encouraged over making an optimal one. There are lots of ways to cheese a flexible ruleset like this, so the players (including the GM) have to be willing to agree to play collaboratively. There’s a bit more D&Dish party vs. the world in DW than other Pbta games, but it still very much encourages player-directed/inspired complications. You can often identify experienced DW players by the interesting limitations they place on their characters when asked questions.

  11. Charles Gatz If your Cleric’s player is having trouble developing the fiction when put on the spot, consider making your questions more directly leading. Instead of asking “What is your deity like?” ask “Does your deity have a vendetta against the undead?” Structure the questions as yes/no or multiple choice rather than leaving them completely open-ended. This puts a bit more burden on you as the GM, but it’s one way to ease a player more into participating in creating the fiction without overwhelming them with limitless choice. As they get more comfortable, you can start opening up the questions a bit more.

  12. I have an altogether different recommendation. Switch from vanilla Dungeon World to Freebooters on the Frontier (by Lampblack & Brimstone). Send me a message and I’ll share with you a draft of a guide I’m working on that helps D&D players adapt, and explains why Freebooters is the best game to ease them in to Dungeon World.

  13. Maezar​ Don’t really know what you mean by “send me a message” — circled you and tried to send a hangouts message, but no dice… so consider this a “sure, I’ll check it out, but we’re pretty comfortable with DW by now, and just trying to smooth out a few rough edges…”

    Dan, again, great advice… the part about questions to the cleric is exactly what I meant by “more pointed questions”, but “yes/no” is a lot more straightforward. Another thing I’m considering is to just make the “Turn Undead” move not require the player’s full attention (past the initial move), and allow them to cast a spell or make an attack (or any other move), while retaining the protection, or work in something like the druid’s shapeshifting hold, where they can spend some to get the fear effect again. (I should probably just make a new post about this bit…)

Comments are closed.